THE LIBRARY OF THE
ENDOWED BY THE
DIALECTIC AND PHILANTHROPIC
M^'^v 5 ^51^
.^^.'V.^RSITY OF N.C. AT CHAPEL HILL
This book is due at the WALTER R. DAVIS LIBRARY on
the last date stamped under "Date Due " If not on hold, it may
be renewed by bringing it to the library.
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JAN 6":^ 20(f
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Form No 513,
Rev. 7/94 11^1,^ I,;
Digitized by the Internet Archive
ELIZABETH HYDE BOTUME
LEE AND SHEPAED PUBLISHEES
10 MILK STREET
Copyright, 1892, by Lee and Shepard
All Rights Reserved
First Days amongst the Contrabands
C. J. Fetees & Son,
Type-Settees and Electeotypee8,
145 High St., Boston, Mass.
I. Within the Lines 1
II. Contraband. Origin of the Name ..... 10
III. Trip on Government Steamer Arago .... 22
IV. First School-days 41
V. School-days 63
VI. My Parish 82
VII. Whitney School 99
VIII. The First Winter 114
IX. Housekeeping 128
X. Writing Letters 143
XL The Marriage Ceremony 167
XII. Evacuation of Savannah 168
XIII. Jack Flower's Straw Boat i 178
XIV. JiMMIE 181
XV. Disbanding the Troops 191
XVI. Emancipation Jubilee 204
XVII. Refugees Return Home 209
XVIII. Storm at Sea 215
XIX. Hard Times 225
XX. No Longer Contrabands 234
XXI. Thanksgiving 247
XXII. Speculators 259
XXIII. Reconstruction 267
XXIV. Progress 281
FIRST DAYS AMONGST THE
WITHIN THE LINES
Why did I first go within the Lines ?
This question is often asked with the addition,
'' Tell us about it." The military movements con-
nected with the Civil War are well known. But
the great mass of American people know but little,
and so think less, of that other great event, — the
greatest in the history of the world, — the emancipa-
tion of four million human beings held in bondage
in the Southern States. A new race was born into
freedom, with no preparation or provision for the
great change. That this could be accomplished
without disintegrating the whole federal govern-
ment is unprecedented in history.
A new generation has come to the front. The men
and women who were in active life in 1860 are fast
falling out of line. The ranks are broken. But few
veterans can now respond to the roll-call. Let us tell
our stories before it is too late. Wonderful strides
have been made in the political and business world
2 FIx^ST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
since the war. No wonder people who were infants
then, or have been born since, listen to stories of
those stirring times, and "before the war," with sur-
prise and incredulity. The ex-slaves are no longer
freedmen. They are negroes. The name of con-
traband has no significance. It is, at best, only a
local term. In the meantime, these ex-slaves have
doubled in number, and increased in capacity and
intelligence a hundred-fold.
How was Slavery regarded ?
In 1861 Alexander H. Stevens, vice-president of
the Southern Confederacy, said, —
*^The prevailing ideas entertained by most of the leading states-
men at the time of the formation of the old Constitution were, that
the enslavement of the African race was in violation of the laws
of nature ; that it was wrong in principle, — socially, morally,
and politically. These ideas, however, were fundamentally
wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of
races. This is an error. It was a sand foundation; and the
idea of a government built upon it ! When the storm came and
the wind blew, it fell.
**Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite
ideas; its foundations are laid; its corner-stone rests upon the
great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that
slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and
moral condition. This, our new government, is the first in the
history of the world based upon this great physical, philosophical,
and moral truth.'*
Jefferson Davis, president of the Southern Con-
federacy, said in his message, April 29, 1861, —
*^ In a moral and social condition they [the slaves] have been
elevated from brutal savages into docile, intelligent, and civilized
agricultural laborers; and supplied not only with bodily com-
HOW WAS SLAVERY REGAHDED 3
forts, but with careful religious instruction, under the supervision
of a superior race. Their labor has been so directed as not only
to allow a gradual and marked amelioration of their own condi-
tion, but to convert hundreds of thousands of square miles of the
wilderness into cultivated lands covered with a prosperous people.
Towns and cities have sprung into existence, and it [the country]
rapidly increased in wealth and population under the social system
of the South."
While the Southern leaders were thus defending
slavery, and the mass of Southern people were trying
to tighten their chains, many Northerners were
hotly declaring that slavery had nothing to do with
the war, nor would the war touch the " divine
institution of slavery." At the same time Free-
dom, like the soul of John Brown, was steadily
Charles Sumner, that great champion for justice
and humanity, said, —
" Look at the war as you will, and you will always see slavery.
Never were the words of the Roman orator more applicable: * No
guilt, unless through thee; no crime without thee.' Slavery is its
inspiration, its motive power, its end and aim, — its be all and end
all. It is often said the war will make an end of slavery. This
is probable; but it is surer still that the overthrow of slavery will
at once make an end of the war.
*' It is not necessary even, according to a familiar phrase, to carry
the war into Africa; it will be enough if we carry Africa into
the war, in any form, any quantity, any way."
These extracts show the spirit of the times. The
whole country was intensely aroused. When the
war broke out, public opinion was like the waves of
the ocean in a tempest, — rushing up and down,
seething, roaring, hissing.
4 FIRST DAYS WITH THIL CONTEABANDS
People at the North knew but little of slavery
as it existed in the United States seventy-five or
even fifty years ago. It was a terra incognita to
them. When brought face to face with the slaves,
as they were during the war, it was like the dis-
covery of a new race. I do not mean politically.
Everybody knows something of the politics of the
times. History gives us the facts. What was
known of the slaves themselves? Had they any
individuality? Were they, as we were often told,
only animals with certain brute force, but no capa-
city for self-government? Or were they reasoning
"I do assure you," once said a Southern woman
to me, '' you might as well try to teach your horse
or mule to read, as to teach these niggers. They
'' Then," said I, " will you be so kind as to tell
me why they made stringent laws at the South
against doing what could not he done ? "
'' Oh, the laws were made to protect the house-ser-
vants and town niggers. Some of these were smart
enough for anything. But the country niggers are
like monkeys. You can't learn them to come in
when it rains," was her flippant answer.
This was said to me just at the close of the war.
Her statement refuted itself, — not an uncommon
thing in those unsettled times. Negro schools had
then been started with marked success.
To a casual observer, the slaves seemed to be a
careless, easy-going race, governed by impulse, and
as contented with their present condition as they
could be in any other. Many good people, who saw
them only in holiday array, were deceived by their
manner. Hence such books as " South Side View of
Slavery," and others, were written in defence of
The slaves of the town were mostly a merry,
rollicking set, active and alert. The country people
and field-hands w^ere more apathetic. They were,
apparently, indifferent, unobservant, and uncom-
municative. How was it among themselves? In
every community, on every plantation, there were
more or less restlessness and dissatisfaction among
them. They well knew their condition as slaves.
They knew, too, the possibilities of freedom some-
where beyond the line of the Southern States.
In the earliest days they had their secret socie-
ties, their leaders and earnest advisers. Long be-
fore anti-slavery societies were recognized at the
North, or abolitionists became the bugbear of the
South, the slaves met in swamps at midnight and
planned and plotted to break their chains. Free-
dom was the North Star, towards which their faces
were constantly turned. There are those of the
older generation who can remember the Denmark
Vesey Insurrection, which only failed at the last
Without any knowledge of newspapers, or books,
or telegraphy, the slaves had their own way of gath-
b FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
ering news from the whole country. They had
secret signs, an '' Underground Telephone," like the
" Underground Railroad," which was of later date ;
also unknown and unnoticed limited express mes-
sengers. Intuitively they learned all the tricks
of dramatic art. Their perceptions were quickened.
When seemingly absorbed in work, they saw and
heard all that was going on around them. They
memorized with wonderful ease and correctness.
The negro mind had never been cultivated; it
was like an empty reservoir, waiting to be filled.
Under their calm exterior was always a smoulder-
ing volcano ready to burst forth. Of course the
sharpest and most unscrupulous overseers were
needed to watch the slaves, while bloodhounds were
kept to track fugitives.
Not long ago I heard some negro women talking
of old times over their sewing. One said, —
"My father and the other boys used to crawl
under the house an' lie on the ground to hear
massa read the newspaper to missis when they
first began to talk about the war."
"See that big oak-tree there?" said another.
"Our boys used to climb into that tree an' hide
under the long moss while massa was at supper,
so ^s to hear him an' his company talk about
the war when they come out on the piazza to
" I couldn't read, but my uncle could," said
a third. " I was waiting-maid, an' used to help
missis to dress in the morning. If massa wanted
to tell her something he didn't want me to know,
he used to spell it out. I could remember the let-
ters, an' as soon as I got away I ran to uncle an'
spelled them over to him, an' he told me what they
I was attracted by this, and asked if she could do
''Try me, missis ; try me, an' see !" she exclaimed.
So I spelled a long sentence as rapidly as possible,
without stopping between the words. She imme-
diately repeated it after me, without missing a
The children of this woman were amongst the
first to enter a freedman's school during the war.
They took to books as ducks take to water. The
youngest, a boy, was really entered when a baby
in his sister's arms, and was only allowed to re-
main because his nurse could not come without
him. As soon as he could walk his mother com-
plained he did not know anything. When he was
three years old she was bitterly disappointed that
he could not read.
''Why, if I had his chance," she exclaimed,
rolling up her eyes and stretching out her hands,
"do you think I would not learn ! "
It goes without saying, that her children be-
came good scholars. This youngest boy is now a
leader amongst his own people.
Many thrilling stories have been written of the
struggles of these poor creatures to secure that lib-
erty which is the foundation and bulwark of our
8 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTKABANDS ]
Constitution. ''We hold thehe truths to be self- \
evident, that all men are born free and equal." j
Others of these stories will be written and read ]
in the future. In each little district were pa- I
thetic histories proving that ''truth" is "stranger ]
than fiction." \
" Uncle Tom's Cabin," with its vivid pictures of \
the conditions and possibilities of slavery in the I
first half of this century, was eagerly read by all j
who could get hold of it. At the South it was ^
tabooed. Postmasters refused to let it go through \
their offices. Whether this was an edict from j
higher officials I am not able now to say. |
In 1850 I happened to be in Central Georgia. \
A copy of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was sent me. It j
was taken from its wrapper at the post-office and |
eagerly read by the postmaster, his clerk, and all I
the young men of the town. Then word was sent [
to me that the book had been received, and thrown |
into the fire, which would be the fate of all other j
incendiary documents. Half the world who read
this book denied its truthfulness, and the other half
tried to forget it.
Then came the " Fugitive Slave Bill." There was
a fierce struggle for humanity at the North, and de-
termined resistance at the South. A battle was
pending between Might and Right. Slavery was
In the meantime, the slaves as a race were seem-
ingly oblivious to all that was going on. But, i'
fact, they well understood who were their frienc
and what they were doing for them. So they
watched and prayed and waited in hourly expecta-
tion. All their ''spirituals," their shouting songs,
had freedom in some guise or other as a refrain.
*' We must fight for liberty
In that new Jerusalem/'
was their Marseillaise.
These people knew from the first of all the talk
about " States' Rights," " Secession," etc. When
the Southerners were in secret session, plotting dis-
sension, the slaves were also holding secret meet-
ings, planning for their own escape. There are
many instances of the slaves' heroic devotion and
self-sacrifice to their masters' families, while they
were devoutly praying in secret for the overthrow
of the Rebels and success of the Unionists.
10 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
Origin of the Name.
In the War of the Rebellion, May 24, 1861, a
report was sent to headquarters of the Union army
which read thus : " Three fugitives, the property
of Colonel Mallory, commander of the Rebel forces
near Hampton, were brought into Fortress Mon-
roe by the picket guard. They represented that
they were about to be sent South, and hence
sought protection. Major Gary came in with a
flag of truce, and claimed their rendition under
the ' Fugitive Slave Law,' but was informed by
General Butler that, under the peculiar circum-
stances, he considered the fugitives ' contraband '
From this time the ex-slaves were known and
designated as '-'contrabands^^' a name which clung to
them for a long time, and which is still heard in
some localities. They could not be called f reed-
men, as emancipation had not yet been declared.
Events now crowded upon each other thicker and
faster. Wars and rumors of wars filled the land,
and all the people were in arms.
EXODUS OF THE CONTRABANDS 11
The Exodus of the Contrabands.
Early in November, 1861, the United States fleet,
under command of Commodore S. F. Dupont, ar-
rived off Port Royal Harbor, S.C, and on the 7th
the Rebels abandoned their forts, and the Union
forces took possession of the entire country around.
This included a group of sea-islands, on which
were some of the richest and finest plantations
to be found in the South. As the Union forces
advanced, the Rebels retreated to the mainland,
and left their plantations to the care of the ne-
groes, who were reported as '' wild with joy at the
defeat of the Rebels. They had been shot down,
they say, like dogs, because they would not go off
with their masters."
All the white people had fled. When Beaufort
was taken, Dec. 8, there was but one white man to
be found, and it was said he was too intoxicated
to leave. Negroes poured into the Union lines
from all directions. They believed the day of jubi-
lee had come, and these were their protectors and
friends. In Beaufort the negroes were pillaging the
town. They said the whites were shooting them
right and left, in order to drive them back into
the interior. One man, whose name was given,
was said to have shot six of his slaves.
That was indeed a ''time to try men's souls;" a
time, too, when all were on trial before the world,
and forced to show what they were good for.
The fate and condition of the negroes became a
12 IRST DAYS WITH THE COKTBABANDS
matter of deep interest to the whole civilized world.
Many conflicting reports concerning them were
General Thomas F. Drayton, who was a native
of the South, but a Union naval officer, while his
brother was in the Confederate army, wrote, —
*^So far from there being any insurrectionary feelings among
the negroes, I have never heard nor seen any act of pillaging,
incendiarism, or violence in any direction. It is true that the
negroes of a few plantations have shown a spirit of insubordina-
tion by refusing to remove up the country when ordered to do
so by their owners ; but this disobedience should be assigned rather
to a feeling of dismay and utter helplessness at being left alone
and unprotected by the precipitate abandonment by their masters
of their plantations, than from any organized plan of resistance
to the authority they had been accustomed to obey. They are
fast recovering from their fright, and coming forth from their hid-
ing-places, and quietly and submissively resuming their agricul-
tural labors without the guidance or presence, in many instances,
of either master or overseer.'^
Early in the winter an expedition under Com-
mander Drayton went up the Ashepoo River. Not
long after other expeditions were formed to make
raids upon the more remote of the sea-islands, which
had now been entirely abandoned by their owners.
The negroes had been left to take care of them-
selves, and were in a most demoralized condition.
At Hutchinson's Island they were found crouching
about some smoking ruins, and were in a most des-
The reports of these expeditions, as given by the
officers of the gunboats and by the " contrabands "
themselves, were often touching and amusing in the
An overseer on one of the plantations ran into the
house when he heard the boats were in, sight, and
excitedly called all the negroes together, saying,
" The Yankees are coming ! The Yankees are com-
ing ! The gunboats are down the river. You must
all keep out of sight. Don't let them see you. If
they land near here, cut and run and hide where no-
body can find you. I tell you them Yanks are the
very devil ! If they catch you they will sell you to
New Orleans or Cuba ! "
"Never fear. We'll run sure. We'll run so de
Debil hisself couldn't catch we !" they all exclaimed.
'' Don't you worry, Massa Jim," said the old cook.
"We all hear 'bout dem Yankees. Folks tell we
they has horns an' a tail. I is mighty skeery myself,
an' I has all my t'ings pick up, an' w'en I see dem
coming I shall run like all possess'."
"Well, I am going to the main, and I leave all
here in your care," said the overseer as he rode off.
" Good-by, ole man, good-by. That's right. Ske-
daddle as fas' as you kin," said the negroes as the
white man disappeared. " When you cotch we
ag'in, I 'specs you'll know it. We's gwine to run
sure enough ; but we knows the Yankees, an' we
runs that way."
14 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
As the boats ascended the river, crowds of poor
colored people were seen in some places huddled
together, or scattered along the shores, screaming
and gesticulating in the wildest manner. Some of
the more daring leaped into the water, trying to
wade or swim to the boats before they were landed.
When the gunboats touched the shore, the news
spread like wildfire. Men, women, and children
rushed frantically to them, begging to be taken on
board. There was a curious mixture of hope and
fear amongst these wretched creatures.
All the white people on the plantations had left
precipitately for the interior of the State, taking with
them as many of their servants as possible, and leav-
ing the rest to their fate. On some of the places all
the strong and able-bodied slaves had been carried
" up country " by their masters, and only the weak
and decrepit had been left behind.
In this general stampede for the boats, of course
the youngest and strongest were first on board.
Those still on shore begged so piteously to be taken
care of, that they were put in the guard-house for
safe keeping. When order was a little restored, an
officer walked past the guard-house, and, looking in
upon the crowd there, said, " Well, what are you all
^'Dat's jes' what we'd like ter fin' out, massa," said
one of them.
Some sad scenes were witnessed. Mothers were
separated from their children, and " old parents "
were overlooked. These poor creatures, on the re-
mote plantations of distant islands, had been in the
most abject fear for a long time. Now those who
had reached what seemed to them safety were wild
with delight, and immediately began their jubilant
shouting songs. But those left behind unprotected,
ran along the shore and even rushed into the water,
uttering the most heartrending moans and wailings,
which continued until the boat was out of sight and
Many grotesque scenes were also witnessed. When
the government steamer John Adams anchored at
one of the plantations, the negroes rushed along, car-
rying every conceivable thing on their heads that
could possibly be plac^ there, — clothing, blankets,
tubs, pots, kettles, pigs, and chickens. One old man
had his sick wife on his back, and a half-grown boy
had his blind daddy, toting him along " to freedom."
A huge negress was seen striding along with her
hominy pot, in which was a live chicken, poised on
her head. One child was on her back, with its arms
tightly clasped around her neck, and its feet about
her waist, and under each arm was a smaller child.
Her apron was tucked up in front, evidently filled
with articles of clothing. Her feet were bare, and in
her mouth was a short clay pipe. A poor little yel-
low dog ran by her side, and a half-grown pig trotted
Another woman staggered along under a large,
rice-straw bed and her blankets. A man had a
heavy box-coop filled with fowls. Innumerable were
the pathetic and ludicrous stories told by officers
16 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
and men, of scenes which they witnessed on these
When all these people were brought to Beaufort,
the town was full to overflowing. They were quar-
tered in every available place, 'and packed as closely
as possible, — in churches and storehouses, and in the
jail and arsenals. Most of the "negro quarters"
had been taken possession of by the slaves who for-
merly lived on the island, and who had fled from
their old masters on the mainland, back to their
homes. Gangs of these poor refugees were sent to
different plantations, until there was shelter for no
more. There was still a great throng houseless, with
no resting-place. Tents were put up for them until
barracks could be built outside the town, of which
Montgomery District was one.
Organization of the Contrabands.
As soon as military discipline was established on
the islands, the officers saw that something must be
done to protect the colored people. General T. W.
Sherman then issued the following " Order " from
Hilton Head, S.C, Feb. 6, 1862: —
^* The helpless condition of the blacks inhabiting the vast area
in the occupation of this command, calls for immediate action on
the part of a highly favored and philanthropic people.
'^ The occupation of a large portion of this area of country on
the 7th of November last, led to an address to the people of South
Carolina, briefly setting' forth the causes which led to it, its objects
and purposes, and inviting all persons to the re-occupation, in a
loyal spirit, of their lands and tenements, and to a continuance of
their avocations, under the auspices of their legitimate government
and the protection of the Constitution of the United States.
ORGANIZATION OF THE CONTRABANDS 17
** The conciliatory and beneficent purposes of that proclamation,
except in few instances, have not only been disregarded, but hordes
of totally uneducated, ignorant, and improvident blacks have been
abandoned by their constitutional guardians, not only to all the
future chances of anarchy and of starvation, but in a state of such
abject ignorance and mental stolidity, as to preclude all possibility
of self-government and self-maintenance in their present condition.
** Adequate provisions for the pressing necessities of this unfor-
tunate and now interesting class of people being, therefore, now
imperatively demanded, even by the dictates of humanity alone,
an additional duty, next only in importance to that of the preser-
vation of a world-revered Constitution and Union, is now forced
upon us by an unnatural and wicked rebellion.
^*To relieve the government of a burden that may hereafter
become insupportable, and to enable the blacks to support and
govern themselves in the absence and abandonment of their dis-
loyal guardians, a suitable system of cultivation and instruction
must be combined with one providing for their physical wants.
'* Therefore, until proper legislation on the subject, or until
orders from a higher authority, the country in occupation of the
forces of this command will be divided off into districts of conven-
ient size for proper superintendence. For each of these districts a
suitable agent will be appointed to superintend the management
of the plantations by the blacks ; to enroll and organize the will-
ing blacks into working parties ; to see that they are well fed, clad,
and paid a proper remuneration for their labor ; to take charge of
all property on the plantations, whether found there, provided by
the government, or raised from the soil, and to perform all other
administrative duties connected with the plantations that may be
required by the government. A code of regulations on this sub-
ject, as well as a proper division of districts, will be furnished in
** In the meanwhile, and until the blacks become capable of
themselves of thinking and acting judiciously, the services of com-
petent instructors will be received, — one or more for each district,
— whose duties will consist in teaching them, both young and old,
the rudiments of civilization and Christianity, their amenability to
the laws of both God and man, their relations to each other as
18 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
social beings, and all that is necessary to render them competent
to sustain themselves in social and business pursuits.
*' For an efficient and complete organization of this system there
will be appointed two general agents, one to have a general super-
intendence over the administrative or agricultural agents, the
other over the educational department.
^^ As the blacks are now in great need of suitable clothing, if
not other necessaries of life, which necessity will probably continue
and even increase, until the above system gets into working order,
the benevolent and philanthropic of the land are most earnestly
appealed to for assistance in relieving their immediate wants.
Never was there a nobler or more fitting opportunity for the oper-
ation of that considerate and practical benevolence for which the
Northern people have ever been distinguished."
This is what first took me within the lines. " Never
was there a nobler or more fitting opportunity," said
General Sherman. This seemed like a divine call.
" Opportunities are God's Providence." This was
our opportunity ; the way was opened, and we entered
in, not as an enemy, but as friends to humanity.
Formation of Fi^eedmarC s Aid Societies.
The news of General Sherman's order flew to
every corner of the North. Intense zeal and enthu-
siasm for this new field of labor and for those poor
wards of government were aroused. Many persons
hitherto indifferent to the anti-slavery cause were
aroused by deepest pity for those suffering human
beings, whether regarded as '' chattels," '' abandoned
slaves," "contrabands of war," or "freed people."
A crowd of noble men and women were eager to
enroll themselves as superintendents, teachers, and
EXPEDITION TO PCfeT KOYAL 19
The Educational Commission of Boston, also known
as Freedman's Aid Society, and The National Freed-
man's Relief Committee of New York, were organized
at once, and began a work of untold usefulness;
branch societies and auxiliaries were formed in most
of the towns in New England ; freedman's aid socie-
ties were started in churches of all denominations.
Members of families and neighbors joined themselves
into independent clubs, — all to help on this great
work amongst the negroes.
A Peaceful Expedition to Port Royal. — Departure
March 3, 1862, Mr. Edward L. Pierce of Boston,
government agent in charge of plantations and con-
trabands at Port Royal, S.C, sailed from New York
with about sixty persons, fifteen of whom were ladies.
Of these, twenty-seven gentlemen and four ladies
were from Boston ; twenty-one gentlemen and seven
ladies from New York, and three ladies from Wash-
ington and Philadelphia. To this band belongs the
proud distinction of inaugurating this noble work.
Their departure was heralded as '-'- The first mission-
ary expedition to propagate industry, religion, and
education among the contrabands at Hilton Head,
as well as to encourage agriculture and like useful
measures." In this band were persons from diverse
positions in life and with varied experiences, — me-
chanics, teachers, business and professional men.
Most of these were volunteers, who went forth as to
20 FIKST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
a holy mission, ready to do hard work with the
strength and spirit of the martyrs of olden times. A
few received compensation for their labors from the
New York or Boston associations. All were required
to take the oath of allegiance to the United States
Government before going on board the steamer.
Each person had a commission from one of the socie-
ties, which authorized him to engage in some branch
of this work, and each man was required to take oath
that he would '' fight for his country " if occasion re-
quired. The men went as superintendents, to take
charge of the abandoned plantations, and of the
labors of the negroes, and the women were to estab-
lish industrial schools. All were pledged to look
out for the comfort and well-being of these poor
From this time, throughout the entire North, there
was a constantly increasing interest in this work. A
great number of men and women, old and young,
flocked to the societies, eager to be enrolled as
laborers in this new field — very many more than
there were places for. Indeed, it seemed sometimes,
if " transportation " and " subsistence " could be se-
cured for so many, there might be a special superin-
tendent and teacher for each colored family already
emancipated. At first it was exceedingly difficult to
get transportation papers ; and a permit to enter the
military department was a privilege accorded to but
few of the great army of applicants. Subsistence
was a matter of profound faith to these pioneers.
They believed they should find food and shelter, and
EXPEDITIOK TO PORT ROYAL 21
be taken care of like the birds of the air, and they
were. Neither government nor societies could do
more than open the way, and those that entered
therein must literally gird on their armor, and go on
with brave hearts anci determined wills. Happy for
all if to these were added earnestness and steadiness
of purpose, and enthusiasm for the work, with a
sympathy and pity for the past of the negroes, and
faith in their future.
One of the volunteer teachers, wife of an officer
in the First S. C. C. R., wrote of her experience in
teaching. She dated from Mills Plantation.
** My school is constantly deranged by the changes of the camps,
and the attendance interrupted by the duties of picket guard.
By far the most interest and best progress are shown by the boys,
who are not often called away from the school.
** I asked one day, ' Who is President of the United States ? '
*^ They all agreed it was ' Uncle Sam.'
'* One scholar, who proved not to know one letter from another,
said, * I lam a little in Secesh, but kum away 'fore I finish my
*' His zeal in travelling one hundred miles at night, and risking
his life at every step, to get to freedom, is shown in his school
** I am provided with a government tent, which my scholars
have floored with pine sprays and surrounded with rough pine
branches, and I find it as* comfortable and pleasant as any school-
room can be.
"" Many of my old scholars are at present beyond reach, being
on guard duty, etc. They often express a wish to me to be taught,
and I find them with books in hand, making the best use of the
little knowledge they have acquired."
22 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
HOW I ENTERED THE LINES
Trip 071 Grovernment Steamer Arago.
Oct. 25, 1864, I received the following commu-
nication : —
** You are hereby appointed by the New England Freedman's
Aid Society a teacher of freed people at Beaufort, S.C'
. Armed with this commission, which entitled me to
serve my country in the small army of teachers,
sometimes lightly spoken of as '' Gideon's Band,"
and with the proper transportation papers, I reported
myself on the 28th at the quartermaster's office in
New York. Fortunately my papers had been sent
me direct from General Rufus Saxton, then military
commander and governor of South Carolina, Georgia,
My passport was duly vised, and I was advised to
get on board the steamer the next morning as early
as possible. Therefore, by eight o'clock, accompa-
nied by several friends who promised to see me off,
I started for the government steamer Arago, which
was to sail at noon. Notwithstanding the early hour,
it was almost impossible to reach the boat. Carts,
carriages, and piles of military supplies blocked the
TRIP ON STEAMER ARAGO 23
way, whilst squads of soldiers, with bands of music,
surrounded us on all sides. At length, after much
jostling and pushing, and many delays as we were
borne along by the crowd, we landed at the foot of
the gangway. There we were suddenly ordered to
'^ Halt." Two swords were crossed in front of me, as
I was ahead. The way was stopped, and the word
" Pass ! " was screamed into my ears. Immediately
one of my friends thrust the passport into my hands,
which as I held it up was hastily scrutinized by the
officer in command. Soldiers with glittering bayo-
nets stood on all sides of us. The two swords were
raised enough for me to go under, and I was motioned
forward. They were immediately dropped behind
me, and my friends were ordered back. Words were
of no avail, so they reached over the barrier and piled
bags, bundles, and books onto my already over-
loaded arms, whilst vainly trying to gesticulate
directions and a "good-by." One "last, lingering
look " behind, and I found myself alone, marching up
the plank between a double file of soldiers, feeling
very much as if I were a deserter from the ranks,
or a spy, or military prisoner destitute of patriotism
and bereft of courage.
Arrived on deck, I was left to myself. My escort.
Major Saxton, who was returning to his post with his
wife and baby boy, had not yet arrived, and for
a long time I was the only passenger to be seen.
There was not another woman yet on board — only
soldiers and officers hurrying to and fro, gesticulat-
ing and shouting unintelligible orders. I tried in
24 FIKST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
vain to go below. This could not be allowed until
the "ranking officer" came on board and the military
were furnished with quarters. Civilians, and espe-
cially " females," were regarded without favor. For-
tunately, by the suggestion of a friend, I had provided
myself with the inevitable camp-stool, which now
came into good use, and for a long time after did
excellent service. Getting close to the side of the
vessel, to be out of the way, and to avoid observa-
tion, I watched the progress of affairs for the next
three hours. In the course of the morning several
women arrived ; officers' wives, teachers, and a few
belonging to the families of merchants and specula-
tors. Not one of them could get transportation and
a passport through the lines without first having
a teacher's commission and pledging herself to aid
in the work of education. At that time army regu-
lations were very strict, as some mischievous and
traitorous women had already succeeded in getting
into the military departments.
In due time my friends came on board, after which
all arrangements were most happily made for me.
Our "passports" only entitled us to "transporta-
tion." Staterooms and " subsistence " were to be se-
cured after we sailed, and, as the military were served
in the order of their rank, of course teachers had the
fag-ends of everything. In some instances the poor
accommodations they did get were accorded most
grudgingly. All these arrangements were under the
care of the purser and steward, over whom the cap-
tain had apparently little or no real authority. An
TRIP ON STEAMER ARAGO 25
unprotected woman without a military friend on one
of these government boats had a hard time, being
often rudely treated, or entirely neglected, by these
servants. The Arago was a noble exception and a
good boat. All the arrangements were as complete
as it was possible to make them. But I watched
with dismay the fruitless effort of some women to
get a quiet corner for rest.
At last, just as the city bells began to ring out
twelve o'clock, we weighed anchor, and slowly began
to drop down the harbor, amidst the roaring of can-
non, screeching of the whistle, and shouting of the
crowd on shore. Hurry, bustle, and confusion every-
where ! Some persons were late and were pulled
aboard after the plank was taken in. Their boxes,
bundles, and^ valises were recklessly thrown after
them. As long as we could see and hear anything
the crowd on shore waved and hurrahed to us. How
quickly the old life ended, and our new life began !
Whilst the booming of the guns still rang in our
ears, the purser began to place us " according to rank
It is pleasant to recall these days of my ''first ex-
pedition." Before we were fairly out to sea, the
quiet and order of a well-regulated family was estab-
lished. People soon ceased to be strangers to each
other. A common cause made all friends. At table
we were placed like guests at a private party. Around
us were officers and their wives who " had been
doTfn " before, and who had many interesting stories
of camp-life to tell. At my right were my friends.
26 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
Major Saxton and his wife ; on my left, a young sur-
geon in a New York regiment. Our vis-a-vis were
good Dr. Marsh (chief of the Sanitary Commission
in Beaufort), and his wife ; and the post surgeon,
Dr. Durant and Mrs. Durant. A little beyond were
Mr. D. C. Wilson of the Quartermaster's Department,
with his family. He had been with General Saxton
on the first expedition to Hilton Head, and when he
first entered Beaufort. What stories were told of
camp-life and military experiences, full of pathos and
tenderness, intermingled with ludicrous adventures.
They come back to me now like the stories of Alad-
din, or tales of the Crusades.
Half the boat was crowded with soldiers, and of
course there was much speculation as to their desti-
nation. The ranking officer was non-cpmmittal. It
was said that we were sailing '' under sealed orders,"
and that there were " twenty-five thousand stand of
arms marked 'Nowhere,' " on board ; that the captain
himself did not know his destination, and would not
get directions until we reached Fortress Monroe.
Some persons thought that the steamer might be
ordered back to New York, and others predicted we
should be taken to New Orleans before we landed.
It was whispered on desk that we had prisoners who
were below, to be exchanged, and our kindly sympa-
thies were greatly aroused and much curiosity excited.
There were those around us who looked wise, but said
nothing, and the rest of us were left entirely in the
dark. So, watching, waiting, and speculating upon
coming events, the time passed until we reached
TEIP OK STEAMEK ARAGO 27
Fortress Monroe. Here a large fleet was awaiting
orders. We were told our steamer brought these
orders, and again there was much excitement and
It was just sunset, the second day out, when we
anchored in Hampton Roads. For a long time we
stood by the side of the vessel watching the small
boats, loaded with men, going to and from the land.
Whether friends or foes we could not tell ; it was too
dark to distinguish anything. We could only hear
the plashing of the oars, the scraping of the boat on
the sands, and the sounds of suppressed voices, with
occasional quick commands. All we could know
was, that a large number of men were taken off, and
others brought back, and it was whispered around
that these were the prisoners to be exchanged. The
calm sea and clear sky, contrasting with the excite-
ment around us, made the night seem doubly tranquil.
This unceasing activity amidst the darkness reminded
us of the uncertain future to which all were hasten-
ing ; and the regular ringing of the half-hour bells
seemed like the knell of departing time.
All the evening and well into the night we listened
to the stories of the officers returning to their posts
of duty. Mr. Wilson told us that on this same day,
two years before, he sailed from Fortress Monroe
with the great Southern Expedition, a fleet of nearly
fifty vessels. He gave an animated account of the
incidents of that expedition ; of the entrance to Port
Royal Harbor and the taking of Beaufort.
" Why the Union forces did not take possession of
28 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
Port Royal Island until Dec. 5, 1861. So our troops
did not fairly get to Beaufort until the 8th. It was
something to see the town then. There Avas but one
white man in it, and he was too drunk to leave ; I be-
lieve he afterwards declared he feigned intoxication,
not wishing to go away. He was a poor fellow any
way. In November, 1861, our troops took Hilton
Head, the place where this steamer is to land. Many
curious and touching things happened at that time.
" General Drayton, who biiilded and commanded
the fort there, had a brother who was captain in our
army. He was the only one of the family w^ho was
for the Union, and he was '' true blue." When he
went on board the Rebel flag-ship, some of the ne-
groes belonging to his brother recognized him, and
were wild with joy to see him ; I believe they consid-
ered him the very personification of Liberty. You
ask how the negroes appeared at this time? They
were dazed. Some were greatly excited, and others
were terribly depressed. The superior officers, of
whom General Drayton was one, reported that there
was no insurrectionary feeling among the negroes.
They had shown no disposition for revenge or vio-
lence. No acts of pillaging or incendiarism were re-
ported at that time, which seems very remarkable
under all circumstances. Some of the negroes refused
to go up country when ordered off by their owners,
which was considered unparalleled insubordination.
The poor creatures were unsettled enough as they
were, and they preferred to remain in the old familiar
places. Who can wonder at this ? A great many hid
TRIP ON STEAMER ARAGO 29
away, but when they recovered from their fright, they
came from their hiding-places, and went to work in
the fields. They had no overseer or driver, but chose
one of the head men to direct and advise them.
" When our troops took Hilton Head Island the
fields were white with cotton ready to be picked. It
was a beautiful sight, and novel to most of our men.
You must read the reports of the capture of Fort
Walker and Fort Beauregard. Some parts read like
" Fort Walker was on Hilton Head, and Fort Beau-
regard was on Bay Point. The extreme points of
these two islands form the entrance to Port Royal
Sound, which is about three miles wide. This sound
is a wonderful harbor, where many of our gunboats
are now lying.
" You will not be South long before you will hear
about the advantages of Port Royal Harbor, for the
officers and soldiers are very much impressed by it.
They say it will take in the navies of the world. It
is in the heart of South Carolina, and is only twenty
miles from Savannah, and thirty from Charleston.
"When our men landed on Hilton Head, the ne-
groes guided them to the Rebel officers' headquarters,
which was on the Pope Plantation. Here they found
a very fine library. There were, besides the books,
complete files of old papers, some dating as far back
as 1812. Hard, wasn't it, to have all these things
These stories seemed to us, in our novel position,
,like leaves f rora history and romance. Unwritten his-
30 FIEST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
toiy they certainly were. Listening, I realized more
fully than ever before what struggles, feats of courage,
and hours of endurance, had opened the way for us,
and made possible our present peaceful expedition.
Taking the Oath of Allegiance.
At Hilton Head we were obliged to go to the pro-
vost-marshal's office, and take the ''Oath of Alle-
giance " '' to the best government in the world."
This oath, which was read to us, and which we
half audibly repeated, was very impressive.
*'I do solemnly swear that I will support, protect, and defend
the Constitution and Government of the United States against all
enemies, whether domestic or foreign ; that I will bear true and
faithful allegiance, resolution or law of any State convention to
the contrary notwithstanding. And further, that I do this with a
full determination and pledge to perform it without any mental
reservation whatever ; and further, that I will faithfully perform
all the duties which may be required of me by law. So help
As I held up my right hand and took the oath, I
felt that I now belonged entirely to my country, to
labor for that country's good. Our examination, if
not overstrict, was a little amusing. We were closely
scrutinized by the officer, who was hurriedly writing
at his desk. " What name, please ? " and " What age
shall I put down ? " with a conciliatory smile. Dr.
Durant patiently stood by and answered for us when
he could ; but the nearest of our friends would never
have recognized any of us by the descriptions given
in our permits. Having again raised my hand, '' swear-
TAKING THE OATH OF ALLEGIANCE 31
ing," I would ''give no aid nor information," etc., to
the enemy, I received my papers, and found myself set
down as ''Mrs. Butters," and described as "a tall
lady with black hair and black eyes," etc. As not
one of our number answered to this description in
any way, we decided our young officer had drawn
largely upon his imagination. Mrs. Wilson, who stood
by my side, was very fair and delicate, and no taller
After this we left the Arago and were transferred
to a smaller boat bound for Beaufort, which was sent
down for the officers belonging to General Saxton's
command. In due time we steamed up the river,
past the forts. Bay Point, and the gunboats lying in
Port Royal Harbor, — which General Sherman calls
" the finest harbor that exists on the coast south
of Hatteras," — and landed at the wharf in Beaufort.
A curious crowd of white men and negroes stood
around waiting for our boat to come up. Here we
were welcomed by General Saxton and his staff;
and in spite of the turmoil and confusion around us,
and the insignia of war, we ceased to feel like strangers
in a strange land. There were soldiers everywhere,
"saluting" the general as we passed. Not a white
woman to be seen, excepting some officers' wives
and a few teachers expecting friends, and who only
appeared in public under good escort.
Negroes, negroes, negroes. They hovered around
like bees in a swarm. Sitting, standing, or lying
at full-length, with their faces turned to the sky.
Every doorstep, box, or barrel was covered with
32 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
them, for the arrival of a boat was a time of great
excitement. They were dressed — no, not dressed,
nor clothed, but partly covered with every conceiv-
able thing which could be put on the back of a
biped. Some of the women had on old, cast-off sol-
diers' coats, with " crocus bags," fastened together
with their own ravellings, for skirts, and bits of sail-
cloth for head-handkerchiefs. Many of the men had
strips of gay carpeting, or old bags, or pieces of
blanket, in which they cut arm-holes and wore as
jackets. Their pants were tied below and above
the knees and around the waist with pieces of rope
to keep them on. Words fail to describe their gro-
tesque appearance. Fortunately they were oblivious
to all this incongruity. They had not yet attained
distinct personality; they were only parts of a
whole ; once " massa's niggers," now refugees and
contrabands. So all looked up with a smile, and
put their hands to their foreheads in military fash-
ion, with a " How d'ye, gineral ? How d'ye, missis ? "
as we passed along.
I was to be a guest at General Saxton's head-
quarters, so we went directly there. This w^as a
large and fine private residence, formerly the prop-
erty of a wealthy Southerner, now called '' Secesh."
At the large gate was a sentinel's box, before which
stood a black sentinel, who gave us the military
salute as we passed through. At the top of the
high steps we were received by two black orderlies,
who escorted us to the family rooms. All the
lower part of the great house w^s used for mili-
STAY IN BEAUFORT 33
tary purposes. It was camp-life within doors. All
night long I was aroused by the sentinel tramping
under my window, calling out the hours with the
voice of a stentor. "• Twelve o'clock, and all is
well," or, " One o'clock, and all is well," giving rhyth-
mical cadence to each word. Now and then he
would bring his gun to the ground with a sharp clang,
and call out, ''Who comes there?" After which
the unceasing tramp, tramp, tramp, would begin
again. Soon I ceased to be a stranger ; I began to
feel great security as I listened to this steady march
and monotonous call. I had a sense of watchful-
ness and protection never experienced before.
Stay in Beaufort.
I had heard of the wonderful climate of the sea-
islands. I was told it was almost perpetual sun-
shine there, as a rain-storm rarely lasted more than
twelve hours. But it rained three days constantly
after my arrival. During that time I had opportu-
nity to learn something of military life.
The town of Beaufort was filled to overflowing
with ex-slaves, or freed people, who were always
spoken of as " contrabands." They had flocked here
from every direction, — from the plantations not
far away; from ''up country" and "down South."
Every boat that came in from any direction brought
a cargo of fugitives.
When Beaufort was taken, Ofiicer Dupont re-
84 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
**The inhabitants have fled, and the town is abandoned to
the negroes, who are reported to me to be in a lawless condi-
tion. . . . They were wild with joy and revenge. . . . They have
been shot down, they say, like dogs, because they would not go
off with their masters. . . . The Confederates were in an utter
panic ; they deserted everything. '^
This was when the Union gunboats reached the
town after taking Hilton Head.
Captain Rogers also reported at this time : —
^'Beaufort has been taken by the gunboats, the town having
been abandoned by the whites. The negroes were pillaging the
town. They said the whites were shooting them right and left, in
order to drive them back into the interior."
Some people who came off in a boat to the Seneca,
said, " One man shot six of the negroes." There
were those in town who bore the marks of the cruel
treatment they had received, and who spoke with
horror and with hatred of the burning of their houses
and the killing of the slaves.
The first Sunday after my arrival we went to
the camp-ground, and heard Chaplain Lynch, a col-
ored man, preach to the soldiers. The brigade was
drawn up in line in front of General Saxton and his
staff, whilst hundreds of contrabands were hovering
around, — a mottled and grotesque background to
the bright military display. As I stood upon the
platform and looked down upon this crowd of black
faces, I was thrilled with astonishment at their in-
tense earnestness. They were huddled together as
close as possible, quiet and subdued, but not dejected.
All eyes were fixed upon the speaker with great so-
OLD FORT PLANTATION 36
lemnity. I began then to realize the importance of
the duties we owed to the poor, ignorant ex-slayes.
These were the people I had come to teach and to
help. I had left all behind for their sakes, and I was
impatient to begin. Each hour showed me, too, that
at the North we had but a faint conception of the
work to be done.
Old Fort Plantation,
I found my location was to be at Old Fort Planta-
tion, a place of historic renown and great beauty. A
large number of colored refugees had been brought
here. These were part of the eight hundred brought
off by General Montgomery on his raid to Combahee,
— as poor and destitute a class of human beings as
could possibly be found, for whom my sympathies
had already been strongly aroused. Dr. Marsh had
warned me against these people, assuring me "the
slaves on the rice-plantations were the most degraded
of the race." And he considered them " the connect-
ing link " between human beings and the brute crea-
tion. As this was purely a missionary work, these
were the people I wished to come in contact with. I
wanted to learn what could be done with the lowest
of God's creatures. My subsequent experiences in
teaching the freed people proved that the good doctor
was wrong in his estimate of their character and con-
dition. I found those from the mainland more intel-
ligent and better bred than the mass of those from
Sunday afternoon I drove in an ambulance down
36 FIKST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
to the old plantation. My road lay along the river-
bank, which was thickly bordered by large oaks and
tall pine-trees. We passed through one or two plan-
tations abandoned to the negroes, and past the con-
traband village, a collection of low buildings called
by the people themselves, " Mon'gomery Hill."
Why a ''hill '' I could never learn, as there was not
the slightest perceptible elevation. All the people,
men, women, and children, came out to greet us, with
bows, scrapings of the feet, courtesies, and a general
shouting of "- How d'ye? missis ? " " How d'ye ? "
" Us glad to see you'n'a ! " " How's all de folks
when you lef ' 'em ? " This last inquiry they consider
a special mark of respect, and one they never forget."
The plantation house at which we stopped, and
which was to be my future home, was one of the old-
est on the island. It was a low, two-storied mansion,
built in a wonderful grove of live-oaks and water-
oaks, which covered an area of sixty acres. All these
trees are heavily draped with the long gray moss,
which is never found in greater luxuriance than on
and around the sea-islands.
It hung dank and heavy from the recent rains ; and
as we entered the grove, this bright summer after-
noon, the place seemed like a solemn, grand old
The house contained nine small rooms. The out-
side door opened into a medium sized apartment,
which was called " the Hall," but had always been
used as parlor and dining-room. Out of this opened
a butler's pantry and buttery, which enclosed one end
OLD FORT PLANTATION 37
of the open piazza. At the other was an office or
waiting-room. There was adjoining this a small
room which the servants designated as "drawing-
room." A door opened from this room directly upon
a narrow front piazza, from which there was a pleas-
ant view of the broad river and of the islands beyond.
A narrow flight of winding stairs led up outside
from the back piazza to a small square entry, from
which four doors opened into the bedrooms. The
kitchen and laundry and servants' rooms were in sep-
arate buildings. A row of these houses faced the
back entrance. Not far away, and in plain sight, were
the " negro quarters," a row of small houses placed,
diagonally, where the " field-hands " lived.
In front of the house was an avenue of magnolias
leading to the river, which was bordered with a thick
hedge of ''Spanish daggers," or ''bayonets," — the
When the war broke out this place was mentioned
as " Smith's Plantation," taking its name from the
old owner. On one of the posts of the front piazza
was found some writing, supposed to be by the for-
mer owner. It said for more than forty years he had
moved from this place to his house in town and back
again, making the change over eighty times, and he
devoutly thanked God for all the blessings he had
It seemed indescribably pathetic to me, thus to
walk into a stranger's house and take quiet posses-
sion. There was nothing within to remind one of
the original owner. It was only when I walked
38 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
around and saw the carefully arranged grounds, with
fine shrubs and vines and gravelled walks bordered
with flowers, that I realized what the place had been.
In spite of years of neglect, — for it was first left to
the care of the negroes, and then taken by the
Union troops and used for soldiers' barracks and hos-
pitals — in spite of all this, there was much beauty
left. As I walked around, I was more and more
overwhelmed by a realization of the cruel necessities
of a civil war.
The old fort which gave its name to this planta-
tion was built in 1562. Parts of it are still standing,
showing the spot where Captain Jean Ribault and his
party landed. Captain Landonniere described this
place in his '' Histoire de la Floride." Large trees
growing on top of the sea-wall stand as witnesses of
In this Histoire^ Landonniere gave a fine descrip-
tion of the harbor, saying, ^'- A raison de sa heaute et
grandeur fut appelee Port Royal^'' which name it has
always held '-'-avec raison,''^
From the banks of the river, which is a broad arm
of the sea, I could distinctly see the Union gunboats
lying peacefully at anchor at Bay Point and Port
My first night spent in this old, deserted plantation
house was full of troubled dreams. The novel and
isolated position, with remembrances of the stories I
had been listening to of its past and recent history,
OLD FORT 39
with the sighing of the wind, and dashing of the
waves against the shore as the tide came in, all com-
bined to weave around me strange and fantastic
visions. But the early morning brought a healthy
reaction, for there was work enough to do. Like
soldiers, we had come with our knapsacks in our
hands. We were to live on '' soldier's rations," and
draw our supplies from the commissariat. In army
fashion we " formed a mess." To each member of
this was delegated some special duties, and each one
in turn took charge and looked after supplies. By
the we I mean a young man from Massachusetts, who
was superintendent of that part of the island, and a
young woman sent out by the New York society, and
who had charge of the plantation school.
The house was stripped of all furniture. The
windows were without curtains, and had only board
shutters to protect us from the sun by day and unwel-
come intrusion at night. When these shutters were
closed we were in absolute darkness. When they
were open the windows were so shattered there was
nothing to protect us from the wind and the weather.
There were no domestic utensils. A few articles of
household furniture had been gathered together for
our immediate use. This place was first deserted by
its owners, then stripped of every movable thing
by the negroes, and then entirely devastated by the
We were not quite so bad off as a friend who went
South with the first band of missionaries in 1862.
His first location was on a plantation on St. Helena
40 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
Island. He had no culinary utensils but a large iron
teakettle and a small frying-pan, and there was noth-
ing else to be found far or near. So he first boiled
his eggs in the teakettle ; then he boiled fresh water,
to which he added his coffee. He baked bread in his
pan until he learned to bake hoe-cakes on a real hoe
before an open fire. He roasted potatoes in the ashes,
and fried the bacon when the bread was done. These
were all his resources for many weeks. Then a negro
woman brought him a small hominy pot, so he could
add this universal and nutritious edible to his bill of
We were better off than this, as the lapse of time
had brought a little order out of chaos, and we were
near " the base of supplies."
Our house was a cheerless place at first. It took
time and patience to bring around us anything like
homely comforts. Three times a day our " rations "
were spread upon a solid mahogany table, a relic of
''secesh times," too big and heavy to be carried
away. We drew up our camp-stools to this festive
board, and enjoyed our repast as only tired, busy, and
hungry people can. Table linen was voted out as
too great a luxury in war time to be indulged in. I
had brought with me a bed-sack, which was filled with
corn husks, and never was rest more grateful than I
found on this after a hard day's work.
FIRST SCHOOL-DAYS 41
WITHIN THE LIKES — Continued
One bright November morning I started to take
possession of my contraband school. The air was
soft as June ; birds were singing ; the cotton-fields
were gay with blossoms which contrasted charm-
ingly with the white matured bolls. My path lay
through a grand old live-oak grove. It was won-
derfully attractive, with its great trees covered with
long gray moss, through which the broad sunshine
cast fantastic lights and shadows. From this I
emerged into an open field. There was no regular
path, and the walk over the old cotton hills was ex-
ceedingly rough and uncomfortable.
The schoolhouse to which I was appointed was a
rough, wooden building standing on palmetto posts
two or three feet from the ground, with an open
piazza on one side. When I first came in sight of
this building, the piazza was crowded with children,
all screaming and chattering like a flock of jays and
blackbirds in a quarrel. But as soon as they saw me
they all gave a whoop and a bound and disappeared.
When I reached the door there was no living thing
to be seen ; all was literally '' as still as a mouse ; " so
42 FIKST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
I inspected my new quarters while waiting for my
There was one good sized room without partitions ;
it was not ceiled, but besides the usual heavy board
shutters its six windows were glazed. This was a
luxury which belonged to but few of the school-build-
ings. Indeed, these glazed windows had been held
up to me as a marked feature in my new location.
The furniture consisted of a few wooden benches,
a tall pine desk with a high office stool, one narrow
blackboard leaning against a post, and a huge box
stove large enough to warm a Puritan meeting-house
in the olden times. The pipe of the stove was put
through one window.
I sketch the picture of this, my first schoolroom,
with tenderness. Rude and uncouth as it was, there
are others besides myself who hold this place as sacred.
I believe this was the first building ever erected ex-
clusively for a colored school. It was built for the
colored refugees with a fund sent to General Saxton
for this purpose by a ladies' freedman's aid society
in England. All the " contraband schools " were at
that time kept in churches, or cotton-barns, or old
kitchens. Some teachers had their classes in tents.
Inspection over, I vigorously rang a little cracked
hand-bell which I found on the desk. Then I saw
several pairs of bright eyes peering in at the open
door. But going towards them, there was a general
scampering, and I could only see a head or a foot dis-
appearing under the house. Again I rang the bell,
with the same result, until I began to despair of get-
FIRST SCHOOL-DAYS 43
ting my scholars together. When I turned my back
they all came out. When I faced about they darted
off. In time, however, I succeeded in capturing one
small urchin, who howled vociferously, " O Lord !
O Lord ! " This brought out the others, who seemed
a little scared and much amused. I soon reassured
my captive, so the rest came in. Then I tried to
"seat " them, which was about as easy as keeping so
many marbles in place on a smooth floor. Going
towards half a dozen little fellows huddled together
on one bench, they simultaneously darted down under
the seat, and scampered off on their hands and feet to
a corner of the room, looking very much like a family
of frightened kittens. Hearing a noise and sup-
pressed titters back of me, I looked around, and saw
four or five larger boys rolling over and over under
the benches towards the door. Whether for fun or
freedom I could not tell ; but as the first boy sprang
to his feet and out of the door, I concluded they all
planned escape. But I "halted" the rest, and got
them on to their feet and into their seats. Then I
looked them over. They saw I was not angry, but
in earnest, so they quieted down. The runaway
peeped in at the door, then crept along and sat down
by his companions. There was not a crowd of them,
— not half as many as I supposed from all the clat-
ter they had made.
All these children were black as ink and as shy as
wild animals. I had seen some of them before, and
the brightest among them had been pointed out ; but
they all looked alike to me now. I tried in vain to
44 FIEST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
fix upon some distinguishing mark by which I might
know one from another. Some of these children had
been in a school before, but they were afraid of white
people, and especially of strangers. As they said of
a teacher on a subsequent occasion, " Us ain't know
I had much the same experience with these children
a few months later. Small-pox had broken out in
the colored camps around Beaufort, and the command-
ing officer issued an order that all the children should
be vaccinated. So one morning a physician came to
my school for this purpose ; I expected him, but had
said nothing, not anticipating a riot. The room was
full, many large boys and girls being present. The
doctor laid his hat with a small box on the desk and
took a chair. I called the lai'gest girl in the room
to me, and I rolled up her sleeve, the whole school
watching us with anxiety. The doctor took hold of
her hand and raised his lancet ; this was too much ; she
uttered a shriek, exclaiming, " O Jesus, save me ! "
and, snatching away her hand, she darted out of the
room, and the entire school followed her. The lead-
ers dashed down the river-bank, and the little ones
darted under the house. I called in vain, and fran-
tically rang my bell. '' Miss Fannie," who was with
me by that time, hunted about, and coaxed the few
laggards she found; but they were not to be lured
back to face a direful enemy who confronted them
with a murderous weapon. There was nothing further
to be done that day. The doctor went home, and
towards night Miss Fannie and I went to see some of
FIRST SCHOOL-DAYS 45
the people, to whom we explained the object of the
doctor's visit. The mothers, who had been watchful
to protect their children, now turned around and be-
rated them well for " being so scarry, ^^
" Don't you fret, missis. They is sure to be there
to-morrow," they said ; and so they were, in full force.
The doctor came again, and I explained what he
wished to do, baring my own arm to show them the
scar made by vaccination in my childhood. Now
they were all as eager to have this done as they were
reluctant before. Some of the boys came back and
begged to have " some of that leettle stuff " put into
the other arm. They evidently considered the bit of
court-plaster a badge of honor.
These children had been born and bred in troub-
lous times. They had always been surrounded by
conflict and confusion. Irrepressible ? That 's tame !
They were in a constant state of effervescence. In
time, after some more skirmishing, the little gang be-
fore me was brought into a degree of order. They
listened, apparently, with open mouths and staring
eyes to what I had to say. But I soon discovered my
words were like an unknown tongue to them. I
must first know something of their dialect in order
that we might understand each other.
Now I wished to take down the names of these
children ; so I turned to the girl nearest me and said,
"What is your name ? "
"It is Phyllis, ma'am."
"But what is your other name? "
46 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
'' Only Phyllis, ma'am."
I then explained that we all have two names ; but
she still replied, ''Nothing but Phyllis, ma'am."
Upon this an older girl started up and exclaimed,
"Pshaw, gal ! What 's you'm title ? " whereupon she
gave the name of her old master.
After this each child gave two names, most of
them funny combinations. Sometimes they would
tell me one thing, and when asked to repeat it, would
say something quite different. The older children
would frequently correct and contradict the younger
ones. I know now that they manifested much inge-
nuity in invention or selection of names and titles.
One boy gave his name as Middleton Heywood,
shouting it out as if it were something he had caught
and might lose. Whereupon another boy started up,
saying angrily, "• Not so, boy. You ain't Massa Mid-
die's boy. I is."
All were now busily studying up their cogno-
mens, and two or three would try to speak together
before being called upon. One boy was ''Pump-
kin," another "Squash," and another " Cornhouse."
The girls were "Honey," and "Baby," and "Missy,"
and "Tay," with an indiscriminate adoption of
Rhetts, Barnwells, Elliots, Stuarts, and Middletons,
I thought of Adam's naming the animals, and
wondered if he had been as much puzzled as I. Cer-
tainly he gave out the names at first hand, and had
no conflicting incongruities to puzzle him. In time
I enrolled fifteen names, the number present.
FIRST SCHOOL-DAYS 47
The next morning I called the roll, but no one
answered, so I was obliged to go around again and
make out a new list. I could not distinguish one
from another. They looked like so many peas in a
pod. The woolly heads of the girls and boys looked
just alike. All wore indiscriminately any cast-off
garments given them, so it was not easy to tell
" which was which." Were there twenty-five new
stiholars, or only ten ?
The third morning it was the same work over
again. There were forty children present, many of
them large boys and girls. I had already a list of
over forty names. Amongst these were most of the
months of the year and days of the week, besides a
number of Pompeys, Cudjos, Sambos, and Rhinas,
and Rosas and Floras. I now wrote down forty new
names, and I began to despair of ever getting regu-
lated. Fortunately, the day before, I had given out
two dozen paper primers with colored pictures, and
had written a name on each. So I called these
names, but only two or three children came forward
to claim their books. So I laid the rest one side.
Then half a dozen little heads were lifted up, and
one boy said, " Please, ma'am, us wants one o' dem."
" I have no more, and these are given away
already," I said.
"You'na done give dem to we!" they exclaimed.
I asked the first boy what was his name. Then I
looked over the books. No name had been put down
like the one he gave. It was the same with all the
rest. But as I turned the books over, one girl ex-
48 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
claimed, '^ Dar, da him ! " And coming forward, she
pointed to one of the primers with evident delight,
saying, " Him 's mine." I looked at the written
name. It was Lucy Barnwell. I asked her name.
It was Fanny Osborne. " Pshaw, gal ! " exclaimed an
older girl, '^ Dat's youn'a mammy's name."
Now the others came forward and picked out their
own books. What marks they had to distinguish
their property I have never been able to discover.
But the children, and the older people too, rarely
ever make mistakes in these ways. I have taken up
a pile of books all just alike, and called to the children
sitting in their seats to tell me to whom they belonged.
They not only knew their own property, but their
In time I began to get acquainted with some of
their faces. I could remember that '' Cornhouse "
yesterday was "- Primus " to-day. That " Quash "
was " Bryan." He was already denying the old
sobriquet, and threatening to " mash your mouf in,"
to any one who called him Quash. I reproved the
boys for teasing him. " Oh, us jes' call him so," with
a little chuckle, as if he ought to see the fun. The
older people told me these were " basket names."
"Nem'seys [namesakes] gives folks different names."
It was months before I learned their family rela-
tions. The terms " bubber " for brother, and " titty "
for sister, with " nanna " for mother, and " mother "
for grandmother, and father for all leaders in church
and society, were so generally used, I was forced to
believe that all belonged to one immense family. It
FIRST SCHOOL-DAYS 49
was hopeless trying to understand their titles. There
were two half-brothers in school. One was called
Dick, and the other Richard. In one family there
were nine brothers and half-brothers, and each took a
different title. One took Hamilton, and another
Singleton, and another Baker, and others Smith,
Simmons, etc. Their father was '' Jimmy of the
Battery," or "Jimmy Black." I asked why his title
'' Oh, him look so. Him one very black man," they
These men are well settled, and have families grow-
ing up in honor and respectability who are as tena-
cious of their titles as any of the F. F. Vs.
One boy gave the name of Middleton, but after-
wards came to me, wishing to have it changed, say-
ing, '' That 's my ole rebel master's title. Him 's
nothing to me now. I don't belong to he no longer,
an' I don't see no use in being called for him." But
when I asked what other name he would choose, the
poor fellow was much puzzled. He evidently sup-
posed I could supply a proper cognomen as I sup-
plied new clothes, picking out something to fit. In
time he decided upon Drayton, as " that was a good
name in secesh times, and General Drayton was a
friend to we, an' no mistake. He fight on our side
'gainst his own brother when the first gun shoot."
That was the beginning of time for these poor
freed people, '' when the first gun shoot."
50 FIKST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
On Thursday the schoolroom was filled with eager
children, who truly might be called a " jolly crowd."
Only a few of these knew their letters. Those who
had been in a school in the spring were shy of a new
teacher. They must first see how things were going
on, " fur us ain't know she," was their repeated asser-
tion. Caution was their predominant quality.
None of the children could count beyond twenty,
so there was ample opportunity for oral instruction.
I tried to group them in families. Twice a day I
called the roll, that we might all become familiar
with the new condition of things. It was difficult to
tell at roll-call which was more puzzled, teacher or
Friday, alas, found a terrible falling off. Not a
quarter of the usual number were present. To my
inquiries as to the cause for this, the invariable reply
was, '' Him home for wash." This showed me that
Friday was the universal washing-day throughout the
colony. Thinking the work might be performed in
half a day, I dismissed the little ones present, and
told them to run home and tell all the others to come,
for I was waiting for them. That was the last of
school for that day. I waited and watched two hours
in vain. No one came. So I shut my door and
went to hunt for my scholars in the refugee quarters.
These quarters were about half a mile away.
There was a row of a dozen or more buildings, which
resembled huge wooden boxes. Each house was
EEI'tJGEE QUARTERS 61
divided into four rooms or compartments, and in
each room was located one family of from five to
fifteen persons. In each room was a large fireplace,
an opening for a window with a broad board shutter,
and a double row of berths built against the wall for
beds. One or more low benches, and a pine table with
" piggins," home-made cedar tubs, on it, completed
the furniture. The whiteness and cleanliness of
table and piggins, and occasionally a '-' gourd " or tin
dipper, to which may be added the number and
variety of articles of wearing apparel hanging on a
cross-piece in front of the "bunks," indicated the
character, I might say the social status, of the
This village was built by the quartermaster of Gen-
eral Saxton's department, for the refugees brought
off by General Montgomery's raid up the Combahee
and Ashapoo Rivers in May and June, 1863. In his
first expedition he brought off three hundred of these
poor slaves, who came to him for refuge, and seven
hundred and twenty -seven on the second.
I now came for the first time face to face with life
in the " one-roomed cabin." Outwardly it repre-
sented the poorest and most meagre animal existence.
Was I repelled by these conditions? On the con-
trary, my whole heart went out in pity for them. I
forgot that I was working alone and single-handed,
and I was ready to help them at any sacrifice. In
military order I began inspection at once, to marshal
my forces and " muster in " recruits.
In spite of most adverse circumstances, there was
52 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
a general air of tidiness and decency around the
place. The space before some of the doorways was
swept clean, and sprinkled with white sand from the
bluff. Some clothes, just washed, were spread over
the wild plum bushes, and the washtubs were turned
on their sides against the house. These tubs were
old beer barrels sawed in two. All the houses were
not so respectable. But I soon learned the people
had chosen a leader from their own gang to act as
supervisor. To them he was something like the
driver on the old plantations.
Most of the women were sitting out-of-doors.
The younger ones said their husbands were " ' mong
Mon'gomery's men, ma'am," meaning Montgomery's
Regiment, C. J., which was at that time in Florida.
One woman was dexterously spinning cotton thread
on a wooden spindle, or a long wooden pin, one end
of which rested in a tin basin in her lap. With her
right hand she twirled the spindle, holding small bits
of cotton, roughly fashioned into rolls, with her left.
In this rude manner she made most respectable
thread and yarn, which she used for sewing and for
She was shy at first about showing her work, or
answering my questions, and she received my praise
of her skill with evident distrust. Later I learned
that the colored people were prohibited by law from
appropriating even a single boll of cotton to their
own use. But it was a very common thing for each
woman to secrete a few handfuls of the cotton she
had picked when she left the field. The old habit of
BEFtJGEie QUAHTERS 63
helping themselves to a fraction of the products of
their labor, which they could not get otherwise, still
clung to them. They evidently did not understand
why they were not entitled to a pound of the cotton
they alone had worked, when strange white people
were seizing and carrying off whole crops, on which
they had no apparent claim — the crops which the
slaves had raised for their masters, and which had
been kept in their hands.
These people called themselves " Combees,"
because they came from Combahee River. The
Combee women knew how to do many things of
which the island people were quite ignorant. Before
spring I saw many pairs of shapely gloves and stout
stockings made of the coarse yarn spun in a tin
basin and knitted on reeds, cut in the swamps.
These were sent to husbands, sons, and lovers, off
on duty as soldiers.
It was a long time before I learned that the
crude material used was ''contraband." When the
women found me so unsuspicious, they exhibited their
handicraft with no small degree of pride. It was
not an unusual thing to meet a woman coming from
the field, where she had been hoeing cotton, with
a small bucket or cup on her head, and a hoe over
her shoulder, contentedly smoking a pipe and
briskly knitting as she strode along. I have seen,
added to all these, a baby strapped to her back. The
patient devotion of these negro women was most
Two of the best people I have known were a man
64 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
and his wife, superior field-hands, who always headed
the gang of workers. He had charge of a mule, and
rode to and from the field, whilst his wife patiently-
walked behind, carrying the hoes and other tools.
Whenever she rode with him in the mule-cart, she
sat behind with her back to him.
I will say here that this man came on and up in
the worlds until he bought land for himself, and built
a house with two stories, and owned a good horse and
buggy, with which he drove to town, his wife proudly
sitting by his side.
One of the most respectable of the old women
constituted herself my guide, as I made the rounds
of the refugee quarters. At one door was old Leah,
trying to darn a soldier's threadbare coat with some
of the coarse yarn she had spun herself. The coat
was black and the thread white, but that made no
difference. On the contrary, I think she liked it
better so. It looked like coarse embroidery to her.
I praised her work.
'' O missis ! us all larn to do leetle tings for we-
sels," she said with a laugh. " I been cook for white
folks steady. We's Combee^ ma'am," as if to be
Combee implied everything.
At another house my guide told me lived " Silvy
an' Joe an' baby an' two chillen dead. Hunger kill
'em las' June." That was the time they fled from
Susie said, " Me an' my ole man lib here, an' we
sister lib wid we. Him got husband, but 'specs him
husband in Beefort, ma'am."
EEFUGEE QUARTERS 65
No one was willing to confess there were any-
young or able-bodied men around, for fear they
would be drafted into the army. They were proud
of volunteers, but a draft was like an ignominious
seizure. These women were not quite sure of me,
as I went around with note-book in hand. I might
be a spy or a detective. It was a long time before
these refugees could get rid of their suspicions of
white people. Perhaps they never did. Since the
beginning of the war they had been time and again
deceived by Northerners and Southerners.
General Sherman tells the story of a negro who
cautiously approached his camp one night and
watched him a long time before he would commit
himself. Not long before, some Rebel soldiers had
put on the blue overcoats of the Unionists and
talked with the negroes, calling themselves their
friends, and then severely punished them for mani-
festing ''sympathy with the Yankees."
Sarah and her husband, November, greeted me
cordially. ''Us has three childun, missis," said
Sarah. "Dem mus^ go to school, fur us want to
larn something, fur sure."
My guide took me into one room to see Viola, who
was in bed desperately ill. She had no clothing or
anything to make her comfortable. " Her husband,"
said the woman, " is wid Mon'gomery's boys in de
regiment. Now de mudder-in-law Rose," — she pro-
nounced it as one wovd^" mudderinlawrose^^^ — "tucks
care of him."
The devotion of this old mother-in-law I have rarely
66 FIEST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
seen equalled. When the contrabands were first put
in the barracks, there were twice as many as could
possibly find room there. So " Government " put up
tents for the overflow. Viola was put in one of the
tents, where she remained through the winter, which
was unusually severe. Small-pox broke out amongst
the refugees, and their wants and sufferings were
indescribable. Poor Viola never recovered from this
exposure. Old Rose gave up her room to her, and
lived in the tent without fire or a floor. My heart
ached for these poor creatures, and I promised to
send them something to make them more comfort-
able as soon as I reached home
" God bless you'na, missis ! You'na can't do noth-
ing, an' you'na mustn't fret fur we. It can't be
helpet. Us don't complain, an' us so glad to be
here," said the brave old woman.
I was so glad to turn from this sad scene to meet
Tamar, a robust, merry-looking, middle-aged woman.
Her mother and grandmother lived in the room with
her. She also had three children, one of whom was
married and lived there with his wife and baby,
which baby the oldest woman was " minding." It was
something to see five generations together, all appar-
ently in good condition. At my request, Ned, the
young father, took the baby, and all stood in a row.
In the old vernacular they would have been called
" a prime lot of niggers." I never saw a more fearless
and self-contained set. They were all very black, and
had been considered valuable, and they knew their
REFUGEE QUARTERS 57
Tamar said of her boys, " Missis, they mus' go to
school sure. Us wants to larn, fur we've been in
darkness too long, an' now we're in light, us want to
larn. I wants to go to school too, myself, ef I kin
The great-grandmother, old Affey, was said to be
over one hundred years old. At one time we were
speaking to her of her age, and a gentleman of our
party said, '' Aunty, I shouldn't wonder if you are
one hundred and fifty years old."
" I 'specs I is, massa. Or one hundred an' sixty
at least. Why def [death] forget to tuk me long
time ago," she answered with dejection. She always
seemed aggrieved and neglected to be left so long be-
hind her comrades.
" I can't stay behind, my Lord ; I can't stay be-
hind," is one of their spirituals.
My guide stopped at one door, saying, '' A heap o'
folks lives here, missis." Sure enough. I wrote
down these names as she called them off. '' Venus,"
and '' John," and " Aunt Dinah," and " Gumbo,"
and "Mingo," and "Dido," and "gal Phyllis," and
"Flora," and "him gran'son Billy," and "Doll," and
two children named " Shadrach and Cudjo," — all
of one family, or all " massa's niggers," which meant
the same thing. They had fled from bondage together,
and were now unwilling to be separated.
My head grew dizzy trying to understand the dia-
lect of these people. I was hopelessly confused in
regard to their family relations, and I never knew
whether they were talking of boys or girls. They
spoke of all as "him."
68 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
One woman said her husband " was druv up the
country by de Rebels, and us brought off and never
see him no more."
She lived with her sister, whose husband was '' gone
for soldier." Their children had all died. ''An' you
see, missis, us all alone, an' us hab sup sorrow I can
tell yer. But, t'ank de Lord, us ain't widout hope,"
I stopped before one door in which stood two very
bright-looking women, Jane and Daphne, who wel-
comed me with smiles and courtesies, and asked me to
take a seat. This I gladly did, for their room was as
clean as possible, with an air of comfort, in spite of its
poor condition. The rough floor had been scoured un-
til it had become smooth, and over it was spread fresh
white sand. On one side of the room were two rude
shelves, on which were rows of piggins and pans and
some iron spoons, all as bright as soap and sand could
make them. The women's dresses were nothing
but patches, sewed together with every variety of
thread, even to coarse twine, but perfectly nice and
I asked Jane, the older woman, if she had a hus-
band. She gave a cheery laugh, and tossed her head,
" I 'specs I is, ma'am, somewhere 'mongst the secesh.
But I don't know where, an' I ain't seen him, I don't
know when's the time."
Then she added, with a pardonable degree of pride,
that she had a son in Thirty Third Regiment, '' Ser-
geant Jones of Company G Street." She always
REFUGEE QUARTERS 69
added "street" to the company, as if to give it
She told me of a daughter who was left behind
with the Rebels, and whom she had not seen for a long
time. Talking of this daughter, the child of her
heart, her face became sad and wistful. " For God
only knows whether I'll ever see her again. She is
shut up somewhere in Charleston."
This little quaint old woman attracted me greatly
by her brightness and her ready intelligence. She
soon after came to live with me as cook, and was un-
der my care the rest of her days. She proved a won-
derful servant and a most valued friend. She be-
longed to a good class. All her people had been
house-servants, and no one of them had ever been
bought or sold. This was to her the very acme of
respectability. Sometimes she expressed great con-
tempt for what she termed '' country niggers."
Daphne told me her husband was " in Mon'gom-
ery's battles." She and Jane were the first people I
had met who were willing to talk of their old master.
They had belonged to one of the oldest and most
honored families in Charleston, and they always
spoke with respect and affection of their former
owners. " Him fret on to death when us come off,"
Before I had gone far I discovered that as I had
begun to make calls, I must not omit one house, nor
fail to speak to a single person, from the oldest grand-
parent to the youngest child. Their social rights
were inexorable. My guide said, '' All them people
waits to say how d'ye to you," so I went on.
60 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
The children soon made out my errand, and decided
I came as a friend, so they swarmed around me like
flies. I sat down on a hen-coop and proceeded to
write down their names, whilst my guide called out
to them to '' scrape the foot and hab manners." These
were the names they gave : Sambo, Silva, March,
April, Cornhouse, Quash, Juno, another April, Phebe,
Flora, Rose, Missy, Girly, Tant, June, November,
Friday, Monday, Gumbo, and Jack. Not one gave
any title, nor knew what I meant when I asked for
The first boy I captured and succeeded in making
stand long enough to tell his name, was nearly scared
out of his wits. He could only ejaculate '' O Lord !
O Lord ! " as if his death-warrant had been signed.
But when the others found this was a harmless pro-
cess, they were only too eager to be enrolled. Some
of them came up twice, and wished to assume a
second name. Before I came to the end of the line
the last ones grew uneasy, for fear they should not
be taken in, and began to say, ''You ain't call me ; "
" nor me ; " " nor me." At the last, as I was closing
my book, there came hurriedly forward ''Mila an'
he aunty," and some others, begging to " be ticketed
too." As I read over the long list, I felt sure of a
full school, but was much in doubt whether I had
seen any of these before, or if they were fresh recruits.
The most notable people there were Smart and
Mary Washington. They became staunch allies in
and out of school, and proved themselves worthy of
their significant and illustrious names.
REFUGEE QUARTEES 61
The old man said he was a " cooper by trade," for
he " was born and raised on a rice plantation, an' he
had seen hard times in his day. But de white folks
t'ink much ob Mary, and been kin' to de ole woman,
for her bin great breeder."
" That's so ; some dem women breed like fish," said
an old woman who stood near.
'' So de massa been very keerful ob him," contin-
Later in the winter the old man brought his new
Bible we had just given him, for me to write his
family record. He manifested a proper degree of
pride when he announced himself as " the father of
nineteen sons." He was much puzzled, however, to
give their names, as they had been called sometimes
one thing and sometimes another. " So many people
give them basket names, I ain't 'zactly know myself
which de right one," said the old man apologetically.
But, after thinking a minute, he gave his head a wise
little nod, and started off so briskly, saying, '' Now I
'member," I felt quite sure he gave his boys new
names throughout, substituting Moses for January,
and Benjamin for Hasty, etc. He confessed they had
been known in " old secesh times " as Primus, Roos-
ter, Mealbag, and other comical appellations which
referred to some special time, place, or circumstance.
After getting them in order and written down to his
entire satisfaction, I asked where was this army of
boys. To my surprise he answered gravely, ''In
heaven. All 'cept one, an' dat I t'ink is Solomon;
yes, I mos' sure he named Solomon. He is in Men'-
62 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
gomeiy Regiment, for him's a big man, so tall I could
eat off his head," meaning he was his own height. I
asked if he had been married more than once. He
hesitated, then said gravely, " No, ma'am, only 'tween
we and God."*
I was sure of a full attendance at school after these
introductions. When I first came in sight of the
house, the piazza was filled with men, women, and
children. I had heard many exclamations of " Dar,
da him;" ''Missis comes fur larn we;" "Dar him
come fur sure ; " and there was a general shuffling of
feet and happy greetings. Some of the children were
disposed to dart off as usual, but the older ones kept
them in order. The men and women had only come
to "' get their names put down," as the field-work was
not done. Each one regarded it as an honor to be
enrolled as a scholar. They all left with a new con-
sciousness of their own individuality and personal
dignity. I use this term advisedly. The poorest
and most down-trodden of these people are self-
FIKST DAYS AMONGST THE CONTRABANDS 63
The warm autumn days continued. Before Christ-
mas the field-work was done. Cotton was picked,
potatoes were banked, and ground-nuts gathered in.
Now children and parents, even the old gray-headed
people, hurried together to the schoolroom. Such a
motley crowd, I venture to say, was never seen in
a school before, and will not be again : all is changed.
The schoolroom was filled to overflowing with
eager, expectant scholars. " Us wants book-larning,
too^ bad," they said over and over again.
Some of the children had been in school before.
But not one of the grown-up people could read or
even knew how to handle a book. Indeed, a book
was to them a mystery which they supposed would
impart knowledge by some occult influence without
any effort on their part. They were beginners in
every sense of the word, as they expressed it.
'^ Us ain't know nothing, an' you is to larn we."
Work accumulated rapidly. I wished I had fifty
pairs of hands to labor with. But there was no time
to waste in wishing. Afraid ? I knew no such word
64 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTKABANDS
as fear. I only thought of what might, could, would,
and should be done.
A sewing-school seemed to be our most pressing
need, so I announced that one should be started at
once. But material to work on was needed, and there
was none on hand. It took a very long time to get
supplies from the North. We soon learned we must
be patient waiters in a military department, espe-
cially when Sherman's army was passing through. In
this dilemma General Saxton came to my aid. There
was some coarse, heavy contraband goods stored in
the arsenal. Could I make use of it in my school ?
I replied, we could use anything that could be cut
with scissors and pierced with a needle. So he do-
nated several pieces of dark hickory-brown twilled
cotton. One of the "Disciples" in Boston had
already furnished me with a generous supply of
threads, needles, thimbles, etc. With these I felt
rich indeed. Twice a week the major's wife and Mrs.
Wilson drove down from headquarters in an ambu-
lance to help me in cutting, basting, and directing ;
helping me to bear a load which was becoming too
heavy. It was true, as they said, " We could not
enter the department without a teacher's commission,
and we are quite ready to fulfil our contract." They
nobly redeemed their promise.
No sooner was one set of girls supplied with work
and clothing, than another "gang," as they called
themselves, appeared. Sewing had a great fascina-
tion for all. They learned readily, and soon devel-
oped much skill and ingenuity. They had never had
the freQ use of sewing materials before, and were now
delighted beyond expression.
I dismissed the morning school, and told the girls
Vho wished to sew, to go home for luncheon, and
come back in half an hour. This was the first day
when sewing was inaugurated. When I returned
after recess, I found the girls still on the piazza, wait-
ing and watching for the ambulance which was to
being "the ladies from town. Upon questioning them
I found they were afraid of losing their chance if
they did not stand by.
" Dem won't let we come back ef we go home,"
said one large girl apologetically.
The ladies were never weary of well-doing. There
was much that was interesting, and also amusing, in
the attempts of some of the younger girls to master
the intricacies of plain sewing. I see before me now
those bright-eyed, demure-looking maidens, as they
came lip, one after another, for a needleful of thread,
which they always received with a courtesy. Indeed,
they never took anything from a teacher, whether
book, paper, pens, or the simplest thing, without
dropping a courtesy, but they were shy of speaking.
" Can you not say thank j^ou to the lady who has
been so kind to you ? " once said a gentleman to a
large girl. She gave him a startled and inquiring
look, then turned and made a deeper courtesy and
went away. She evidently did not know what he
66 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTEABANDS
Old Fort Children.
The girls of the plantation who went to a small
school held in the Praise house in the grove were
much distressed to find their neighbors enjoying ad-
vantages which they had not. So one day they sent
a messenger to beg me to take them into school " fur
sew." I was obliged to refuse, on account of my lim-
These children had been rather unfriendly to the
refugees, always passing them with a degree of scorn,
and speaking of them as ^' dem rice niggers." But
now they were entirely ready to fraternize. One
little creature smuggled herself into the school and
remained a long time before I discovered she belonged
to the other district. Another left home and went
to stay with an auntie, only half a mile away, so as
to be in the limits of my district. Then one day all
the girls came early and seated themselves before I
arrived, determined to try a coup-de-main. This was
on Saturday, when their own school was closed. It
was impossible to take them in then, so I treated
them as visitors until recess, then explained, as well
as I could my reasons for refusing to admit them,
and thus sent them away. Later in the season I was
enabled to unite the two schools, greatly to the sat-
isfaction of all concerned.
There must be a little bird in every bough to carry
news, it flies so fast. As soon as this new decision
was made, a group of these same girls appeared at the
schoolroom door to escort me home. It was their
OLD FOKT CHILDKEN 67
custom to hop around behind me, much like a flock
of blackbirds ; and like these birds, too, they chattered
all the time. I heard one girl say to another that she
was coming to my school now. The other indignantly
repudiated the idea.
" Not so, gal ! That's a story," she said. " Yes, us
is too ! " said another, with vehement gesticulations.
" Her b'longs to we now, an' us b'longs to she," and
they marched on triumphantly.
The refugees were vastly worse off than the plan-
tation people. They literally had nothing to wear,
and the weather had become very cold. Women
came to me with only a skirt on, made of coarse bag-
ging, or "crocus," tied together with twine, and a
nondescript garment over the shoulders, something
between a shawl and a sack, made of old bits of car-
peting. Girls wore soldiers' cast-off jackets and over-
coats, and boys had on calico sacks. Many of the
children had on but one garment, which was like a
long smock-frock. In this guise they all looked alike ;
especially as men, women, and children wore pieces
'of old cloth tied over their heads to keep out the cold.
Grammatically speaking, gender in school was hope-
lessly mixed. Him and he were used indiscrimi-
nately. A woman would call her husband " the
ole man." One man said of his wife, "The ole hen,
he mighty keerful."
A more grotesque-looking crowd was never seen,
nor a merrier one either. Their grotesqueness came
from necessity ; each one had put on the thing that
came first to his hand. Their merriment was partly
6S FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
characteristic of the race, but also a hopefulness and
faith in the good time coming. It seemed but fair
to help those people first who, in their flight, had left
their few possessions behind them.
Whilst the zeal of these people for learning never
flagged, they had no possible conception of time, or
the fitness of things. Men, women, and children
hurried to the schoolhouse at all hours and at most
unseasonable times, expecting ''to catch a lesson."
Reproof was unheeded, or not understood ; " Us had
something particular to do," was the invariable ex-
cuse. Finally I told the children to start for school
as soon as they had eaten their breakfast. This had
no effect. I learned in time that breakfast, as we
understand it, was to them an unknown term. They
ate when they were hungry. Then I said, " Come as
soon as you are up." The next morning by daylight
I heard a low chattering and suppressed laughter, and
looking out of my window I saw the piazza was filled
with black heads. An eager crowd was waiting for
me. Every morning after that the whole " gang "
came to escort me to school. Usually one bolder
than the rest would come to the door and announce,
" Us waiting on you, ma'am." I soon began to feel
that it was I who was under supervision and kept up
to my duty, and not my poor neighbors. In order to
establish regularity and to push things on, we had
sewing-school every Saturday.
Most of the boys felt aggrieved. They begged to
be allowed to sew too. " Tain't fair," we heard them
say ; '' Dem gals has all de t'ings." So in time, when
our stock of goods increased, we had a class of boys
xin sewing, some of whom did most creditable work.
I use the word " we " with great satisfaction, for
my military friends stood by me all winter, lending a
helping hand when and where they could. Without
their aid I should have been working alone. Many
days I never saw a white face from morning until
dark. Literally I '' paddled my own canoe," as the
In time some of the most industrious girls finished
their new dresses, — stitching, overcasting, buttons,
and buttonholes, — ready to carry home and to wear
to Sunday-school the next day. This was indeed a
great occasion. The delight of the possessors was
inexpressible, while the admiration of the beholders
was very manifest. To our surprise, no matter how
destitute were those less fortunate, they showed
neither envy nor jealousy. The delight of one was
shared by all. 4
The entire school was nearly upset and demoral-
ized when thirty new dresses were finished and folded
ready to be carried home. The children suppressed
their mirth as best they coulcj until they got out-of-
doors. Then their pent-up spirits burst forth ; such
shouts and guffaws as they gave. They knocked
each other in the ribs, rolled over and over, and
turned somersaults, and did all sorts of funny things.
We laughed heartily in sympathy as we sat down on
the piazza, and drew a long breath of relief after a
very hard day's work.
70 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
During this time my Northern friends, individually
and collectively, were doing their utmost to help on
the work "amongst the freedmen." The Freedman's
Aid Society of Boston was constantly forwarding sup-
plies to the different posts where schools were estab-
lished. But in our unsettled condition, it was ex-
tremely difficult to get hold of the things intended
for, and sent to us. Innumerable boxes and bundles,
big and little, went astray. How many hours and
days of patient watching and waiting we have spent
looking for the things we knew had been sent, but
never came !
The best gift of all was ''Miss Fannie,'^ who was
forwarded to me just after New Year's, ostensibly to
be my assistant. But I halt at the word, for she was
everything to me, and to the poor people around me.
Young, active, and enthusiastic, fresh from school,
with all the new methods of study and teaching, she
inspired an admiration and enthusiasm which fell
little short of hero worship.
I say she was sent, for those were the days of red
tape and military discipline. No one could enter
this field of labor without a certain selection and
My pastor, Mr. James Freeman Clarke, of the
Church of Disciples, Boston, had already written,
"When you need an assistant, we are ready to adopt
her and help her to get to you." The time had come,
and Miss Fannie was started, but was stopped in New
NORTHERN FRIENDS 71
York, and told that no female could be allowed to
cross the military lines for any cause whatever, no
matter how urgent was the call. This was an irrev-
ocable order. A great many officers' wives wishing
,to join their husbands, were waiting around the
''Transportation Bureau" for the necessary papers
Some of the officers in power were extremely
rough, and even brutal, in their refusals.
One lady drove to the office and demanded a pass-
port, but was unceremoniously refused.
" You don't know who I am," she said angrily.
" I am Mrs. General ," mentioning the name of
a superior officer.
" I don't care if you are Mrs. Jesus Christ, you
should not go," was the rough and profane answer.^
I mention this only to show the spirit of the times.
Not long after this these restrictions were removed,
and teachers and nurses were granted permits to
enter the department as before. So Miss Fannie
came in due time. She stopped first at headquar-
ters, and was then sent in an ambulance down to me.
The first I saw of her she was standing in the school-
room door radiant with delight. The children began
to buzz, so I gave an extra recess ; but they only
gathered around the door on the piazza and gazed
" Who da him ? " I heard them say.
" Him's Miss Fonnie," said one girl, with superior
knowledge, having heard me speak the name.
'' Oh, but him's prime ! " they declared.
72 FIRST BAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
Christmas came on Sunday, and was a day long to
to be remembered. I had wished to give the day-
scholars some Christmas gifts, but my supply was
very small. I had, indeed, only a box of thread,
needles, and small wares, given me by one of the
" Disciples," whose forethought I should have re-
garded as almost inspiration, did I not know her
kindly deeds were perpetually overflowing. These
were my gifts, and nothing could have been more
acceptable, — to each girl a needle, to each woman a
needle and a " hank " of thread, and to the men and
boys, picture papers. But the boys begged " fur one
needle too," which I gave, to their infinite delight.
They wanted their needles threaded with white cot-
ton ; then they stuck them on the side of their coats,
or jackets, or shirts, and wound the thread round and
round securely. A few of the boys gave their needles
to their mothers, but most of them wore them as orna-
ments for months.
Since then, through the generous kindness of
Northern friends, we have had many festivals, and
valuable and useful gifts for the freed people. But
nothing has ever been received with more manifest
gratitude and delight than the first Christmas pres-
ent of one needle.
We invited all the people in our neighborhood to
have a praise-meeting Sunday night in the school-
house. We wished to make this occasion for us
all what they would call a jubilee. So we dressed
CHRISTMAS NIGHT 73
the house with a profusion of evergreens and gray-
moss, and illuminated it with many rows of candles.
Over two hundred black people assembled before
dark, and the house was absolutely packed. Long
before we reached the place we could see the bright
lights, which cast a glow over the trees and far out
upon the water. We could also hear their shouting
songs, with the clapping of hands and stamping of
feet. I fancied that in the rhythm I could follow the
lines of Whittier's " Song of the Negro Boatmen : " —
*' Oh, praise an' tanks ! De Lord he come
To set de people free !
An' massa t'ink it day ob doom,
An' we ob jubilee.
De Lord dat heap de Red Sea waves,
He jes' as trong as den ;
He say de word, — we las' night slaves,
To-day, — de Lord's free men.
De yam will grow, de cotton blow,
We' 11 hab de rice an' corn,
Oh, nebber you fear if nebber you hear
De driber blow his horn.
We pray de Lord ; he gib us signs
Dat some day we be free ;
De norf wind tell it to de pines,
De wild duck to de sea.
We t'ink it w'en de church bells ring;
We dream it in de dream.
De rice-bird moan it w'en it sings,
De eagle w'en he scream.
De yam will grow, etc.
We know de promise nebber fail,
An' nebber lie de Word ;
So like de 'postle in de jail,
We waited for de Lord ;
74 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
An' now he open ebery door,
An' t'row away de key!
He t'ink we lub him so before,
We lub him better free.
De yam will grow, etc.''
As we neared the house we congratulated ourselves
upon its brilliant appearance ; but when we entered
the room the lights seemed to have gone out, the
darkness was so dense and the shadows so deep. All
the light was absorbed by the mass of black faces.
I told the church leaders to go on with the ser-
vices as if we were not present ; thereupon one of
the elders adjusted a huge pair of spectacles and took
up a book, which he pretended to read. He chose
the " one t'ousand nine hundred and sebenty -eight
hj'mn," and proceeded to '' line off "
" Why do we mourn departed friends,"
which we thought very appropriate under the cir-
cumstances. Then the whole congregation sang with
tremendous force, drawling the words.
One of the members made a long prayer, which
was wonderfully intoned; then the leader asked me'
to preach to them. I replied there was but one ser-
mon fitting this occasion, and I read the whole of
Christ's Sermon on the Mount, first explaining to
them the meaning of the evergreens and wreaths,
the cross and illuminations, typical of Christ's life
and teachings. They gave breathless attention to all
this, ejaculating from time to time, "My Lord! is
EMANCIPATION CELEBRATION 75
I know now they understood very little of all I said,
but no speaker ever had more interested and atten-
tive listeners. When I sat down, one of the leaders
chanted rather than spoke a touching prayer, in which
he styled me his " dear imperial preacher."
Then the white friends sang, —
** Joy to the world, the Lord has come; ''
upon which Father Major got up and made a low
bow, saying, '' Dem sing jes' like de mocking-birds."
By this time the entire audience was aroused and
and ready to pray and sing all night. In each prayer
the speaker tried to introduce, in his uncouth phrase-
ology, some of the passages of Scripture he had heard
read. At the close each one of this great crowd
came to shake hands, thanking us for the good time
they had had. The next morning several women
called to thank me for my " beautiful preachment."
The contrabands had a great emancipation celebra-
tion in Beaufort on New Year's, at which General
Saxton and all his officers were present. As we stood
on the steps of the library building and looked upon
the crowd below, it seemed like a great sea of black
heads. Some of our friends estimated there were
five thousand contrabands present. General Saxton,
" Father Hunn," <-' Mr. Judge," — as they called the
general superintendent, — Mr. Tomlinson, " Parson
French," and many others, made stirring speeches.
There must have been some in this crowd who under-
76 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
stood what was said — the mass did not. But all
knew they were admonished to do their best. Many
were the exclamations, " That's so, massa ! " " You
is right ! " " We'll do so, sure ! "
A good-looking negress, dressed as the Goddess of
Liberty, sang, " In that New Jerusalem," which is
the Marseillaise of the slaves. As she waved her
banner, the entire crowd took up the chorus with a
*' In that New Jerusalem,
I am not afraid to die ;
We must fight for liberty,
In that New Jerusalem."
The effect was electrical.
This was not the first time the freed people had
come together to celebrate their emancipation ; but it
was a new era to a large majority. At this time
there were but few, if any, who had faith in their
freedom, or who understood what it meant. The new
people who were constantly coming into the lines
were just awakening to the fact that they were en-
titled to " life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
Two years before this there was a great emanci-
pation celebration in the Old Fort Grove, where the
slaves were told for the first time that they were free.
It was most fitting that such a jubilee should be held
in this, one of the grandest of " God's first temples."
The words of the poet Mr. Judd reverberated
through its arches : —
"This day is the birthtime of millions !
The dawn of the year sixty-three
Will be marked on the dial of ages.
The hour when a Bace became free !
ema:n^cipation celebration 77
As if from a sky gray and clouded,
And hung with deep gloom, like a pall,
The mists were rolled back, and the sunlight
Streamed glad rays of splendor o'er all.
What though in the list of the nations
We long have been proudly enrolled,
, And the stars and the stripes of our banners
Have floated defiant and bold !
What though with unequalled devotion,
Our fathers imperilled their lives.
Securing the guerdon of Fkeedom
Forever to children and wives !
If yet, on the air of each morning
The wail of the down-trodden rise,
And victims of tyranny holden
Still vainly solicit the skies :
If yet in the valleys, on mountains
Made sacred by liberty's fires.
Oppression still rivets its fetter,
And sons are still slaves like their sires !
But hark ! from the people's tribunal
A voice sends its echoes afar.
Sweet echoes — and multitudes hear them
Above all the din of the war.
For Justice, aroused from long slumbers.
Goes forth, and a glad jubilee
Is his herald most welcome, proclaiming,
* The set time has come ; ye are free ! '
Let us shout, ' We are free ! ' till these islands
Resound with the jubilant strain,
And, catching it up, the enfranchised
Shall thunder it west, o'er the * main ' !
Shall thunder it o'er the savannas,
And down the broad streams, till the sea
Rolls back like a grand anthem chorus
The shout, ' We are free ! we are free P '*
78 FIEST DAYS WITH THE COKTEABANDS
And shout they did, again and again, and then
^'My country, 'tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,"
with a force that might have moved mountains. For
the first time a race could say, '-^ My country — land
" The Nigger's Heaven.'^''
For a long time Beaufort had been called the
"Nigger's Heaven," and the ''Black County," names
which have clung to it ever since. Contrabands were
coming into the Union lines, and thence to the town,
not only daily, but hourly. They came alone and in
families and in gangs, — slaves who had been hiding
away, and were only now able to reach safety. Dif-
ferent members of scattered families following after
freedom, as surely and safely guided as were the
Wise Men by the Star of the East.
On New Year's Day I walked around amongst
these people with Major Saxton. We went to their
tents and other quarters. One hundred and fifty
poor refugees from Georgia had been quartered all
day on the wharf. A wretched and most pitiable
gang, miserable beyond description. But when we
spoke to them, they invariably gave a cheerful answer.
Usually to our question, "• How do you do ? " the
response would be, '' Thank God, I live ! "
Sometimes they would say, ''Us ain't no wusser
than us been."
These people had been a long time without food,
NEGKOES ON THE MARCH 79
excepting a little hominy and uncooked rice and a
few ground-nuts. Many were entirely naked when
they started, and all were most scantily clothed, and
we had already had some extremely cold days, which
we, who were fresh from the North, found hard to
It was the same old story. These poor creatures
were covered only with blankets, or bits of old
carpeting, or pieces of bagging, '' crocus," fastened
with thorns or sharp sticks.
Negroes on the March,
General H. W. Slocum, major-general commanding
left wing Army of Georgia, reported : —
*^ Negro men, women, and children joined the columns at every
mile of our march, many of them bringing horses and mules, which
they cheerfully turned over to the quartermaster's department.
I think at least fourteen thousand of these people joined the two
columns at different points on the march ; but many of them were
too old and infirm, and others too young, to endure the fatigue of
the march, and were left in the rear. More than one-half of this
number, however, reached the coast with us. Many of the able-
bodied men were transferred to the officers and subsistence depart-
ment, and others were employed in the corps, as teamsters, cooks,
Brigadier A. S. Williams also reported: —
** Negroes of all ages and every variety of physical condition,
from the infant in its mother's arms to the decrepit old man,
joined the column, — from plantation and from cross-roads, singly,
and in large groups, on foot, on horseback, and in every descrip-
tion of vehicle. The vehicles were discarded as obstructing the
progress of our very long column. Beyond this no effort was
made to drive away the fugitives. The decrepit, the aged, and the
80 FIKST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
feeble, were told of the long journey before them, and advised to
*' I estimated that from six to eight thousand slaves, at different
points in the campaign, joined the march of this corps, of whom
something over two thousand five hundred reached our camp be-
'^ About one thousand seven hundred, of whom one-third were
able-bodied, were, on account of scarcity of subsistence, placed in
colony at the Coleraim Plantation, on the Savannah River, and
plentifully supplied with rice, and occasionally with beef. The
able-bodied men were employed in transporting rice from the
islands, and in working rice-mills. Four to five hundred (not of
the colony), found employment as officers' servants and teamsters
for the government."
Many of those " left in the rear " had straggled
along until they reached Beaufort. Some had come
by short journeys from plantation to plantation, cross-
ing from the mainland to the island in old rotten
dugouts. There was a steady stream of stragglers
pouring into town day and night.
Superintendents had their hands more than full in
finding places for and issuing rations to these poor
refugees. Those sent to plantations were allowed a
piece of ground for garden, in which to raise corn,
potatoes, and ground-nuts. Only the most helpless
were quartered out, — the old people, and women
whose husbands were in the colored regiments, and
the young children. Families were scattered around,
and at first many of the women found themselves
aftiongst strangers. This was a sore trial. They are
social and gregarious creatures, and cannot endure to
In old times all plantation changes and business
NEaBOES ON THE MAKCH 81
arrangements were made at New Year's. So now these
scattered people determined to get back to '' massa's
niggers " by some means or other, and great was the
moving about. The superintendents were full of
care, and at tlieir wits' end to know what to do.
Our plantation. Smith's, or Old Fort, was a favor-
ite resort, partly because it was easy of access, and
partly on account of the refugee village on "- Mon'-
gomery Hill." After New Year's we often found two
families in one house where there was but one before.
Our superintendent was known to be kind and
straightforward with these people, and they were
delighted to work for him.
'' Tell him us'll give our eyes for him," said an
old man to me.
82 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
" The poor ye have always with you." This was
impressed upon me all the time. It was necessary
to inspect my district, now crowded with new-comers,
to find out the condition and needs of these people.
I went first to the negro quarters at the "Battery
Plantation," a mile and a half away. A large num-
ber of Georgia refugees who had followed Sher-
man's army were quartered here. Around the old
plantation house was a small army of black children,
who swarmed like bees around a hive. There were
six rooms in the house, occupied by thirty-one persons,
big and little. In one room was a man whom I had
seen before. He was very light, with straight red
hair and a sandy complexion, and I mistook him for
an Irishman. He had been to me at one time griev-
ing deeply for the loss of his wife, but he had now
consoled himself with a buxom girl as black as ink.
His sister, a splendidly developed creature, was with
them. He had also four sons. Two were as light as
himself, and two were very black. These seven per-
sons occupied this one room. A rough box bedstead.
MY PARISH 83
with a layer of moss and a few old rags in it, a hominy
pot, two or three earthen plates, and a broken-backed
chair, comprised all the furniture of the room. I had
previously given one of the women a needle and some
thread, and she now sat on the edge of the rough
bedstead trying to sew the dress she ought, in de-
cency, to have had on.
In the old kitchen, not far from the house, more
refugees had been placed. Two women were very
ill, lying on the floor with only moss and corn-husks
under them. It was a most pitiful sight. One
of these women begged for a blanket, but the other
asked for better food.
"I cannot eat only dry hominy, ma'am," she said.
" I lived in massa's house, and used to have white
bread and coffee, and I want something sweet in my
She had belonged to kind and careful owners in
Georgia, and suffered severely from all these changes.
The dialect of these people was very different from
the speech of the islanders : they spoke clearly and
Both of these women died. Feeling they could
not live, to my surprise and consternation, they willed
me their children. In one family there were five chil-
dren, and in the other but one boy. The old feeling,
born of slavery, that the white race had a right of
possession over the blacks, still clung to them. They
not only gave me their children, but tried to exact
from me a promise to keep them and take good care
of them. When I hesitated, they implored me most
piteously not to desert them.
84 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
Three of these children died not long after the
mother, and I am happy to say the others were "well
placed." In time one of the boys was married, on
which occasion I gave him a suit of second-hand
clothing and a long chapter of good advice. He
bowed and laughed merrily, thinking much of the
clothing, and I hope a little of the advice.
The plantation people lived in " the nigger
houses." Most of these people had been carried
' " up country " by their old owners, but had now got
back, delighted to see again the familiar places and
the cabins where they were born. They seemed to
me, as I talked with them, a superior class ; more
tidy and self-respecting than most of the new-com-
ers, — owing, doubtless, to the care and good manage-
ment of their former owners.
On the next plantation was a curious collection
of the original people and new-comers. All might
be called refugees, for they had recently returned
" from the main," where they had been carried — not
In one cabin I found a man in a most wretched
condition. Years before he had fallen from a build-
ing and broken his back. In the vicissitudes of war
he was left alone and destitute, a most repulsive ob-
ject, a thousand times worse off than a caged animal
cared for by his keeper. He was grateful for the few
scraps thrown him like a dog in his kennel. He was
only able to use his hands, and he looked like a hu-
man ball rolling over the floor.
I had his cabin cleaned and whitewashed, and
MY PARISH 85
fresh, clean clothes put on the poor fellow. He tried
in vain to find words to express his gratitude. In all
my interviews with him I never heard a word of
c6mplaint, although his sufferings must have been
" Bless the Lord, missis ! " he said, " 'tain't no use
to fret about it, for it can't be helpt ; an' I ain't all
the time so racket about wid pain as I used to bin.
Sometimes at night I'se so painful I can't shet my
eye, an' den I look out de doah, up at the stars, an'
t'ink dem de eyes of de Lord looking straight down
at me one. An' I 'member what de white folks tell
me, 'De Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want ; ' for
in course I is His little sheep, an' I is so glad ! It
'pears like the pain don't hurt me no more. I done
forget it altogedder."
O blessed faith, which can brighten and cheer such
a wretched life ! Often, in deep humility, have I
thought of these disciples, poor and despised of men,
but rich in these treasures of divine faith and love.
One woman in that neighborhood was called
''Titty Sugar." She had a little boy and girl named
Manasses and Auty.
Another woman, whose husband was in the army,
came to the school. She said, " I use' to live in town
with missis in ole ' secesh times ; ' " and she evidently
considered herself superior to the people around her.
To my question she said, " Don' know how ole I is,
but 'specs I isn't a chicken." Indeed, she looked
quite like an old hen. She was eager "to learn her
book," and she succeeded very well.
86 FIEST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
There was a colony of Georgia refugees at Fort
Charlotte, about two miles from the schoolhouse.
They were an unusually intelligent and self-respect-
In my district there were over five hundred contra-
bands, men, women, and children. All expressed a
desire to have their children learn something, if they
themselves knew nothing. But all, from the oldest
to the youngest, were eager to '' come fur larn too."
I found but one person, a young soldier, who dis-
dained to attempt anything, saying, almost with
insolence, that he had a right to learn when young,
like other boys ; this was denied him then, and he
was not allowed to touch a book, and now it was too
late. This man had indomitable will, with boldness,
unceasing activity, and great physical strength. He
was a power with his race. I wished to gain his
influence for the school, as well as his own good, but
could never do it.
One contraband said to me, '' Liberty is as good
for us as for the birds of the air. Slavery is not so
bad, but liberty is so good."
He spoke with great affection of his master, who
he said had gone to live in Delaware.
One bright, cool morning the superintendent and I
crossed the river to Cat and Cane Islands. We were
paddled over in a dugout, managed by two black
boys, Renty and Elijah, who laughed and sang all the
time, showing the whitest of white teeth.
We were met and cordially welcomed by a middle-
aged black woman, who was evidently watching for
MY PARISH 87
US, having seen the boat leave the opposite shore.
She had always been house-servant and dairy -woman,
aujd was intelligent and tidy. The house-servants
and field-hands were like two different races. She
escorted us 'Hhrough the town," as she called the
negro quarters, and gave a clear and highly enter-
taining history of the people living there. The old
plantation house had been burned, and no white per-
son lived on the island. The children had ''learned
nothing," and were very eager to have a school. All
the people clamored for this, and begged me to come
over and teach them. One woman said, —
" O missis ! us want to larn mighty bad. Us ain't
had no school, but us'll do anything ef you'll come
over an' larn we."
They offered " to fix up " the old cotton-barn for
a schoolhouse, — that was the best they could do,
— and to send a boat daily to carry a teacher back
and forth. But this could not be done. The small,
insecure boats, on this broad river, which is an arm
of the sea, with the uncertainty of the weather, made
the whole plan impracticable. I promised to do what
I could for them. For a time they tried to cross the
river daily, but finally many families moved to our
side "to catch edecation."
The negro houses on these islands were better
built and better arranged than any I had seen before.
Around each was a yard for pigs and poultry, and a
piece of ground was fenced in for a garden. They
had a refreshing air of cleanliness and comfort. These
islands had not been devastated and laid waste like
those on the opposite shore.
88 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
One old woman seemed overjoyed to see a white
person once more. She bitterly bewailed her poverty,
because she had not something, not even an egg
or some ground-nuts to put into my hands. She
evidently mistook me for her old mistress returned,
and wanted to know how I had been all this long
time, and how all my folks were. Then she begged
me for " jest one needle an' a bit of thread to patch
her old coat with." Her old husband was called
" Daddy Snicker." They all thought he was not too
old too learn.
The negro quarters consisted of two rows of very
small houses, built on each side of a narrow road,
which was not much more than a foot-path. The
quarters the negroes called "a town," and the paths
One woman who called her boy '' Bone," said he
should come to school if she '' had to bring him her-
self." Another woman assured me her children could
learn well, for "both have very good tongues."
The history of those days can never be written.
In each small neighborhood were romances, come-
dies, and tragedies.
In times of trouble the contrabands always came
to their teachers for help and advice. Sometimes we
were much embarrassed to know what to say or do.
When I saw their implicit confidence in our knowl-
edge and sympathy, I found it very hard to tell them
I could do nothing.
A sick woman came to me one day, who was suf-
fering from a serious organic trouble. After listen-
THE NEW BELL 89
ing to her story, and getting all the facts, I said,
''Auntie, that is beyond me. I really do not know
what to do for you."
Her look of astonishment and dismay was really
startling, as she exclaimed, " O missis ! You'na can
read books, an' in course you knows more'na we."
Yes, I could read books, but they did not tell me
everything. In fact, I soon discovered they told me
very little of what I needed to know most.
The New Bell.
I had expressed a wish for a bell for my school-
house, hoping to bring about a more regular attend-
ance, with less delay. Immediately a Boston friend,
who had been in the department, responded by send-
ing me just what I needed. Oh, what a delight was
this bell to the whole neighborhood ! The children
would collect around the house very early, and lie on
the ground waiting and watching for it to ring. For
a long time this was a mystery incomprehensible to
them. They talked often to each other about " we
bell," and seemed to feel as if each one had a kind of
right of possession in it.
" Oh, but him can talk loud ! " said the boys with
delight. I told them all what the bell was for, where
it came from, and who sent it. Without consulting
me they immediately named the school for our gener-
ous friend, '' Hooper School, A No. 1."
The children were allowed to take turns in ringing
the bell ; but this was a privilege only granted as 9^
reward for good behavior.
90 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTBABANDS
After New Year's, which is always the negroes'
special holiday, school began again in earnest. Early
every morning the children crowded my piazza. I
asked them what time they started from home. One
said, '' At first cra<3k o' day." Another said, '' The day
had clean done broke w'en I lef we house, but
I run every step of the way." The children talked
of "we school" as ''Hooper Bell School."
The men and women who had been enrolled and
then waited " to get in their tators," saying, '' W'en
we'm get in our t'ings we'm sure to come," were on
hand. It was often dark before we closed our
schoolroom doors, for the days were short, and there
was no twilight. We had school on Saturdays, so as
to keep up the habit of regular attendance. This
was especially children's day, as the older people
announced they '' had work to do," which usually
meant "to take foot to Beefort," to see what was
One fearfully cold day I went to the schoolhouse
early, and had a rousing fire built before any one
came. Only a few of the older scholars ventured
out, and by the time they arrived I was nearly con-
gealed. It was no more possible to heat the unceiled
and open house, than it would be the open grove.
Besides, the smoke, whicli should have gone out
of the window, blew back into the room until we
were nearly suffocated. Under these circumstances
1 dismissed the cliildren and went away, greatly to
HOOPER SCHOOL 91
their surprise and regret ; " Us'll be so lonesome ef
us go away," they said.
Often our room was filled to overflowing with
men, women, and children. Miss Fannie had come
fresh from school, full of zeal, and with many theo-
ries for the advancement of the contrabands. But
this was an unexplored field, requiring a line of action
not mapped out in any book. All attempts at pre-
cise order and orthodox discipline quenched the ar-
dor of her pupils and set their wits astray.
" Attention, children," said she ; and they stared
hopelessly at her, and not an answer could she get
to any question. I saw her color rise, and a look of
intense weariness come over her before the morn-
ing's work was done.
"They are hopelessly stupid!" she exclaimed, as
we started on our homeward walk. " How have you
endured this so long?"
''Wait a little, and see. Don't expect too much
of them or of yourself," was my answer.
The next day was not much better ; but she be-
'' To-morrow I shall begin over again. I see we
do not understand each other," she said. After that
she had everything her own way. It was charming
to see the welcome all gave her. The brightness of
youth is very attractive to these universal children,
who never seem to grow old.
There was a good deal of rivalry in the classes,
and not a little good-natured joking and boasting
amongst the scholars. Every one was eager to learu
92 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
something. We soon began to see an improvement
in the condition of the scholars, with a degree of
order and cleanliness. If any were absent, they sent
excuses like the following : —
"Please, ma'am, Pa Smart an' Titty say they'm
can't come to school to-day, fur dem gone to bury
one of massa's niggers. Him dead at butcher-pen."
The writing of this note on a piece of a paper
bag was evidently the combined effort of the whole
A man and his wife stood together in a class to
read. They were great stalwart creatures, black as
ink. Their three children were in the class above
them, having conquered words of one syllable.
As soon as the parents began to read, the chil-
dren simultaneously darted to their sides to prompt
"Boy! daddy, boy! Him don't know nothing,"
laughingly said Dick, prompting him.
"Shut you mouf, boy! I only want to catch dat
word, sure," the pleased father answered, scratching
"Dem chillen too smart. I ain't know what to
do wid' dem," declared the proud mother.
Their boys, Dick and London, were the same
size, and the veriest little ragamuffins that could be
found. Each wore a shirt and old pants minus but-
tons ; one suspender, a piece fastened with a rusty
nail in place of a pin, — behold their entire outfit !
One day they had an old hat, minus the brim, be-
tweeu them ; but this soon came to grief. A gust
HOOPER SCHOOL 93
of wind took it off, so they let it go. They always
stood in the class with an arm around each other's
neck. The other hand was used to hitch up their
pants. The one that was reading always stammered
and hesitated over the simplest words, while the
other prompted^ knowing the lesson by heart. But
when he tried to read, he stammered in the same
way. They evidently learned by proxy.
Their sister Jane was no better off than they,
while she was far more uncouth. We patiently
struggled to teach her to sew, and to bring about
cleanliness and a degree of order. One day she was
fitted out with an entire suit of good clothing, but
in a few days she was just as badly off as before.
About this time the cotton was sold, and she ap-
peared in the schoolroom with an astonishing new
hat on her head. It was a white straw, with a bunch
of red, blue, and green rooster's tail-feathers stand-
ing straight up. Her feet were bare, and her frock
ragged and dirty ; but she walked into the room
with the air of a queen.
'' Jane, take off your hat and hang it up."
" Dem chillen gwine to tief it ef I lef him out
dar," was her reply.
Quite different from them was a "Combee"
woman, who came to school daily with a baby in her
arms and two boys by her side. They all stood up
to read together. '
These families were refugees. They have all re-
turned to their old homes on the ''mainland." Pri-
mus, one of the boys, has become a 'teacher and a
94 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
preacher, and is the wise man of that neighborhood.
His mother comes to see me once a year, and tells
with pride of her boy's position, always speaking of
him as an "A No. 1 scholar."
Babies ! There was a host of them, and it was not
easy to keep them away from school. Even the ti-
niest creatures were brought along. Each child had
its own nurse, and all wanted to be in school. So it
was arranged that one girl should come in the morn-
ing and get a lesson, and then run home to mind
child, and let the nurse come. But usually the one
left behind would come on with the baby and wait
around the house until relieved. She always brought
with her a tin can with hominy for the child when
hungry. It was not unusual for the little nurse to
appear in her class as soon as it was called, having
passed her baby along to any friend who was disen-
gaged. There must have been some signal from the
window, for a girl would ask " to step out for a min-
ute," when the baby-tender would return in her
These babies needed but little care ; even the
youngest would eat hominy when hungry, and then
go to sleep. I have seen eight and ten of these lit-
tle black creatures asleep on the piazza at a time.
Usually the nurse would take off her apron and
spread it down for baby to lie on ; that was all.
But, at the best, babies were very confusing to the
school. Finally, 1 engaged an old mauma to mind
MISS LIZZIE 95
them during school hours. Now the little girls were
happy. Each one brought her charge to Aunt
Clara's house, and left it on her way to school. It was
pleasant to look in upon this primitive nursery and
^ee these pickaninnies sitting upon the well-sanded
floors, or asleep in the corner.
Our greatest trial was the dogs. No colored man
considered himself safe, or even respectable, without
one or more miserable-looking curs. These always
ran around after the children, and darted into the
schoolroom whenever the door was open ; then some
one of the older people would call out, '' Drive out
dat dog," and there was a regular skirmish until he
was ejected. In vain we talked and expostulated.
It took time to make the scholars believe that we
drew the line at dogs. One man said feelingly, —
" Why, ef I lef my leetle dog, I mus' stay too, fur
him ain't going to stop widout me."
Now that field-work was over, all the contrabands
flocked to the school, until the room was over-crowded.
It took most of my time to enroll and place the new-
comers. They appeared irregularly, and at all times
"Please read me quick, ma'am; I'se hasty. I'se
got a baby at home," said a big black woman. This
is but a specimen of many other days. In vain did
WO struggle to bring order out of this confusion. Ju
96 FIKST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABA^^DS
this dilemma Miss Fannie signalled to her sister,
" Come over and help us ; " and in due time Miss Liz-
That was a day of jubilee to the contrabands.
The children, laughing and shouting, surrounded the
house, and peeped into the windows. Miss Lizzie
had to go out and be formally introduced before they
dispersed. " Oh, but him jes' like Miss Fonnie, "
said Sally, a sometimes waitress.
The plantation school had now been united with
mine, and the room was so crowded that often two of
the teachers took their classes out under the trees,
while a third gave oral instruction in the school-
In order to teach writing. Miss Fannie had to let
the scholars kneel down before the benches, upon
which they placed their slates and books and papers.
I was much interested in a class of married men
and women who never got much beyond words of
two syllables, and could only spell and write " good,"
" books," etc. I devoted the recess-time to them,
and was much amused by their efforts. They rolled
up their eyes and scratched their heads when puz-
zled, and every line in their faces was in motion. If
any one missed a word, or gave a wrong answer, he
looked very grave. But whenever a correct answer
was given, especially if it seemed at all difficult, they
laughed aloud, and reeled about, hitting each other
with their elbows. Such '' guffaws " could not be
tolerated in regular school hours. They joked each
other like children ; but, unlike them, they took ^U
MISS LIZZIE 97
One day some small boys were standing in a class,
reading. The first boy stumbled over the words, and
the lesson was passed to the next, who read it cor-
rectly, over which he chuckled well ; and number
one, much chagrined over his failure, said in a low
voice, ''Git out." At this number two was highly
incensed. Doubling up his fists, he exclaimed,
''Him cuss me, git out, ma'am! him cuss me, git
out ! "
A boy gave a haphazard answer to a question in
geography one day. His teacher exclaimed, —
" Why, Raph, how could you say that ? "
" O Miss Fonnie ! a slip ob de tongue am no fault
ob de brain," was his ready reply.
An old man came to talk with us about his grand-
son, about whose progress in school he was anxious.
" I tell you what, ma'am," he said, " Billy's a bery
tick-headed chile ; what you may call a no 'count
boy. But I wants him fur larn, sure. Do please,
ma'am, take your leetle paddle (meaning ruler), so
him shall bring home something in his head."
One morning two bright and clean little girls, ten
and twelve years of age, came and took their seats as
soon as the bell rang. We soon heard the chirping
of little chickens, and I asked if any one had chick-
ens in the room, and there came a faint reply, " Yes,
"Who is it?"
"Me, ma'am," said the older girl.
" You, Virginia ! Where ? "
" In my bosom," she said slowly.
" In your bosom ! What in the world did you
bring chickens to school for ? "
To which she tremblingly replied, —
'' De old mudder, him kill all but free of him
chickens, an' titty (meaning her stepmother) say I
mus' min' dese. An' I 'fraid ef I lef 'em home the
rats will eat 'em. So I has to bring 'em wid me,
'less'n I can't come to school, ma'am."
Sure enough, there were the three little creatures
snugly nestled in the bosom of her frock. We soon
found a box in which they could safely be kept until
school was over.
WHITNEY SCHOOL 99
Our commissions as teachers from the New Eng-
land Freedman's Aid Society entitled us to positions
as workers amongst the contrabands, and the kind
and generous care of these Northern friends enabled
us to carry on this work.
Some time in the future, old ladies will tell their
grandchildren of the first days of the Civil War ;
when they were little girls, and learned to knit and
sew, that they might contribute stockings and hand-
kerchiefs for the soldiers, and make aprons and dress
dolls for the contrabands.
There were no idle hands in those days. The aged
people advised and contributed money, and the young,
even the youngest, worked. The rooms of the Edu-
cational Commission in Boston became a great depot
for all sorts of supplies for the contrabands, upon
which we made requisition in time of need.
During my first winter I received a message from
the main society in Boston, saying, "A family in
Belmont which has been sending generous contribu-
tions for the contrabands, wish to work for one school
and one set of people. Would you be willing to
100 FIBST DAYS WITH THE CONTEABAKDS
be adopted by them ? " To this I replied, " Gladly."
In this way my school became the protege of " the
Whitney family," and I at once gave this name to it.
Church friends and neighbors joined with them soon
after, and formed a distinct Freedman's Aid Society.
It is now more than a quarter of a century since
these friends and those of the Church of Disciples,
Boston, adopted the Whitney School. li\ all these
years, in spite of the many vicissitudes of life, these
friends have been unceasing in their care and aid.
Words would fail to tell the story of what they have
done, but the impress of their work has been left upon
hundreds and thousands of freed people and their
As soon as it was practicable I started a Sunday-
school. I wished this to include everybody who
cared to come. As the freed people had " praise "
every Sunday at break of day, and religious services
amongst themselves in the forenoon, I invited them
to come to Sunday-school at three o'clock p.m., which
they always call " evening."
It seemed to me an easy thing to conduct a Sun-
day-school. Of course there were so few, if any,
who could read the Bible, most of the instruction
must be oral, with plenty of singing.
I started out the first Sunday brimful of courage.
When we reached the schoolhouse we found a crowd
of eager and expectant men, women, and children.
They were shouting their spirituals, but stopped
when we went in, and became perfectly quiet and
waited. What could I do, and what could I say
to them? All at once I became positively panic-
stricken. I had been saying to myself, " It is only
' the word fitly spoken in due season ' which they
need." But what was that word, and how could I
say it to this patient crowd, so ready to listen, and
with implicit faith to accept whatever we told them?
The responsibility seemed tremendous.
Fortunately, Major and Mrs. Saxton and Colonel
Ketchum and Miss Kellogg, all well-known friends to
the freed people, had come ''to assist at the opening."
The colonel, seeing my embarrassment, suggested
the people should sing again. They all began to
** Nobody knows the trouble I feel ;
Nobody knows but Jesus."
Then he made them a speech, so simple and direct
that all could understand. He told them of the
freedman's Sunday-school in which he was inter-
ested in Beaufort, and asked them to try and do as
well as their neighbors." To this they assented audi-
bly, saying, '' We's sure to do that."
After this the way was easy. Every Sunday our
Beaufort friends came to help us. It would be diffi-
cult to tell just what was done. It was impossible to
systematize the school, as we had seen done at the
North ; so we worked after our own fashion. Each
Sunday the school was divided into classes, according
to the number of teachers on hand. Sometimes there
would be twelve or more white teachers, and then,
102 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
again, not more than two or three ; all depended on
the weather and on military duties.
The children rarely failed in attendance. In cold
and stormy weather they were sure to be there ; bare-
footed and bareheaded, — what did they care? They
constantly gave very funny answers to all questions,
even when most in earnest.
One day a gentleman, who had been teaching a
class of large boys, came to me, saying, —
" I have often heard stories of their comical ex-
pressions, but did not believe half of them. But
what do you think ; just now I had the boys repeat
the Ten Commandments. I tried to explain how
they were given by God to Moses, talking as plainly
as I could, until I thought thej^ understood. Then I
asked who wrote the commandments ? One boy said,
' Uncle Sam ; ' another said, ' General Saxby ; ' but
a third thought it was ' Columbus.' "
The older people were also glad to come to Sunday
school when it suited their convenience. But they
often had ''some particular thing to do;" or, "some-
body to see ; " or, they " had a misery in the head "
or "the back." Sunday was the universal visiting-
day, and they are a social people. It was not easy to
supersede old customs. They thought religiously
they were all right, for they were all in the church.
They liked to hear preaching. In this way they
picked up new words to use themselves, when they
spoke in meeting.
Early in the year one of my little scholars died ;
and the father, with one of the elders in the church.
came to beg me " to preach a funeral sermon in Sun-
day-school." They also asked me " to funeralize" at
the same time Brother John Graham's wife, who died
several weeks before.
I was not a little startled at this request, and
puzzled to know what to do. But I decided to
read the burial service, and trust to the inspiration of
the moment for words fitting the occasion. As their
language had become more intelligible to me, I trusted
I was better able to speak to their comprehension
than in the beginning.
There was a long procession of relatives and
" massa's niggers " present, most of them " same fam-
ily to we," said the father and mother and bereaved
I lined the hymns as distinctly as possible, which
the entire crowd sang loud and slow in a minor tune.
A friend from Beaufort gave a fitting address, and
the colored brethren made long prayers. One of
these prayed for his wife, calling her his " dear
pard'ner." She was evidently not " a professor of
religion." He prayed " Our Fader" to "rouse him!
rouse him ! Take him to de brink o' hell, O our
Fader ; an' hole 'im over, an' shake 'im ! Shake 'im
well, our Fader ; but nebber drop 'im in."
Doubtless he was more anxious about his wife's
spiritual condition as we had come " to celebrate,"
they called it, " Sister Venus's funeral."
Old Uncle Major prayed for '' more uprightness "
in conduct. He said, " O Lord, suffer me not to carry
two faces under one cap."
104 FIKST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
The next day I heard some of the women say, '' The
missis made a grand preachment for Sister Venus's
No commendation was ever more gratefully re-
ceived. I had keenly felt my inefficiency as " a
preacher," and realized how few and dry were the
crumbs of spiritual comfort I had been able to give
to this hungry crowd.
The little girl that died had been a pet in school.
She was a tiny creature, always buzzing around, so I
called her " my little troublesome black chicken,"
which she thought very funny.
Early in the week I went to see Katy, her mother,
thinking to console her for the loss of her only child.
Instead of finding her sad, she was almost jubilant, as
if some great and unexpected good fortune had come
to her. She delighted to talk of her child.
" I bin know him was fur go fur long time," she
said. " You know, ma'am, the Big Massa want him,
[meaning her]. Him bin a-callin' him fur a long
time. ' Ma,' him said to me, ' don' you see bubba thar
waitin' fur me ? ' Bubba was killed in fightin' at
Morris Islan'. I knew w'en him say this, the Big
Massa bin sen' fur him."
I could say nothing, but I thought of that " perfect
love that casteth out fear."
Another little girl in the school died. She, too,
was an only child. I said to the father, " I am so
sorry you have lost Rosa."
'^ Oh, we mustn't say that," he answered with a
broad smile. '' We musn't fly in the face of Provi-
dence. The Massa call my leetle gal, an' him mus'
go. Ef him call him, him wanted him, an' us can't
Unlike these two was the case of a half-grown boy
who suffered for a long time from a lame knee. His
father was sure he had hurt it by jumping from the
" shelter house." I had the post surgeon and bu-
reau doctor examine him, who decided he ought to
be taken to the hospital in town. When the father
heard this he indignantly refused, saying he '' could
mind his child, and did not ask anybody to help
The contrabands considered hospitals as only traps
to catch the weak and feeble, — far worse than peni-
In time the boy himself begged to be taken to
town. Then the father consented, and came to say,
" I give him up to you, ma'am." So I had him placed
in my buggy, and drove with him to town, and saw
him comfortably arranged in a clean ward of the
hospital, and left him cheerful and happy.
But I brought back the sad tidings that amputa-
tion was necessary.
When I told the old man, he looked very grave,
but said, " Well, I give him up to you ma'am."
The superintendent of the plantation was deeply
interested in the boy's condition. He kindly offered
to go and be with him during the operation, and bring
us word of the result. Alas ! he came back to say
the little fellow had died. Who had the courage to
boar such disastrous tidings to the father? We both
106 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
shrank from this task, but finally I went. The old
man dropped his head and leaned heavily upon his
staff when I told him. But he only said, " Bless the
Lord ! It can't be helpet. I'll go an' get him an'
bring him back to his fader's house."
Afterwards he came and asked me " to f uneralize
the body." So I went to the schoolhouse with a large
number of the friends, and conducted the services, as
I had done before. The people prayed as if offended,
and sang in the most dolorous manner. I saw that
something was wrong. I tried to explain tlie good
uses of hospitals. Then I told them how happy
Philip was when I saw him. I spoke of his blessed
relief from long suffering, and quoted, " Suffer little
children to come unto me." But all was received in
grim silence, so I sat down.
Then one of the leaders arose, and in a most digni-
fied and solemn manner asked, "- Has you got done,
ma'am ? " To which I meekly replied I had. There-
upon he began the services over again, and " f uneral-
ized the body " anew.
I soon discovered that the people thought the boy's
life had been sacrificed to some foreign notion. Their
speeches and prayers were most emphatic. They
exonerated the superintendent and teachers, whom
they designated as •' poor innocent creeturs," and they
asked "- Our Fader " to bless us for what we tried to
do. But the doctors were '' them as goes about seek-
ing whom they might devour." Their volleys of in-
dignation were stunning. When the services were
Qver^ and they came as usual to take leave, I expos-
VISITORS TO THE SCHOOL 107
tulated and explained. They only replied, " It can't
be helpet. You ain't know no better."
Visitors to the School.
There was no day without Northern visitors to the
school. Most of these were interested, but all were
full of curiosity.
I must confess, the ignorance of some of these visit-
ors in regard to the condition of the contrabriiids was
positively astounding. The questions asked of teach-
ers and scholars were amusing and exasperating.
In this connection I wish to ask why so many well-
intentioned people treat those who are poor and
destitute and helpless as if they were bereft of all
their five senses. This has been my experience.
Visitors would talk before the contrabands as if they
could neither see nor hear nor feel. If they could
have seen those children at recess, when their visit
was over, repeating their words, mimicking their
tones and gestures, they would have been undeceived.
This was, however, but one class, of which there was
a great variety. Many of our visitors left us encour-
aged and strengthened by their kind words and
Before my school was well organized ^ome stran-
gers called. One gentleman asked, "- How do these
children progress in arithmetic ? " I looked sur-
prised. " I mean how far along have they got? Are
any of them able to take up book-keeping, for in-
stance ? "
At first I thought he could not be in earnest, but
108 FIKST DAYS WITH THE CONTKABANDS
he looked so grave, I replied only a few were able
to count to one hundred without making mistakes,
and I had not yet succeeded in teaching them their
right hand from their left.
Some officers belonging to the "Tenth Army
Corps " of Sherman's army, who were stopping in
Beaufort, visited the plantation school which was
"kept " in the Praise house, about this same time.
" Children, can you tell me what is meant by the
Trinity?" asked one of them. The teacher, who
was the daughter of a Methodist minister, was re-
ported to have very liberal religious opinions, in
fact, to be rather heretical. Doubtless the visitor
wished to put the children on the right track, for he
made quite a lengthy speech upon doctrinal points.
After he left the teacher said, —
" Children, I hope you will remember what the
gentleman told you."
" Us ain't know what him talk," was their answer.
The same party came to my school. I was ex-
pecting them, and had examined the children a little
upon general subjects. All instruction at this early
date was necessarily given orally; so I drilled the
scholars from time to time upon — I may say,, politi-
cal economy. They knew who was president. It
was not easy to make them understand the geographi-
cal difference between the North and South. They
would persist in saying they lived in "Sou Carlina, in
the State of Sou Ameriky." Imagine my surprise,
when they had sung and answered a few general
questions, to have one of the visitors get up and ask.
VISITORS TO THE SCHOOL 109
*' Children, who is Jesus Christ?" For a moment
the whole school seemed paralyzed. Then one small
boy shouted out, " General Saxby, sar." Upon this
an older boy sprang up, and, giving him a vigorous
thrust in the back, exclaimed, " Not so, boy ! Him's
Not long after this I went to a colored Sunday-
school in Beaufort with this same officer, who, being
requested to speak to the scholars, began by saying, —
" Children, do you all go to school ? All who do,
hold up their right hands."
Upon this all hands, right and left, went up.
" Good ! " said he ; and then he gave them a most
excellent address upon education, — so good I trusted
there might be a few who could understand it.
These irrelevant questions and answers seem
strange to me now, but they were true to those
people and that early period.
One day, early in the winter, I received a note from
General and Mrs. Saxton, saying they were coming
with a party to visit the school, and would be there
by three o'clock p.m. This was when Sherman's
army was moving through Georgia. Mrs. Saxton
knew that in the chaotic condition of things I did
not like to entertain visitors unawares.
I thought this a good time to urge upon the
children to make themselves as clean and tidy as
possible. To encourage them I gave out a large
number of wooden pocket-combs which had been
given me. Then I dismissed them, charging them
to run home, but to be sure to come back before two
110 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
o'clock, with clean faces and hands, and their heads
brushed. They hurried off delighted.
Alas ! How little I knew of these erratic beings !
I was as ignorant of their powers of comprehen-
sion as they of my meaning. What did two o'clock
or luncheon signify to them ! Absolutely nothing.
They had very little idea of what I meant.
" Teacher sen' we home, an' us is to go back."
That was all, and any time would do.
I shall never forget those hours of anxious waiting
all alone. Not a chick nor a child to be seen. A
great stretch of rough cotton-fields on three sides of
me, and the broad river on the fourth. In despera-
tion I rang again and again my little cracked hand-
bell, — this was before the arrival of my schoolhouse
bell, — hoping to arouse some one.
Promptly at three o'clock the general and his
party came in sight. There were General Saxton and
his staff officers, and General O. O. Howard and his
staff. Brave men on horseback, and fair ladies in
carriages, and I stood alone to greet them, with no
school for them to see.
I begged the general to drive on to Old Fort,
which was one of the points of interest, whilst one of
the party went back to order forward the children.
He met the whole gang hurrying along. They had
seen the general's party drive by, and concluded it
was time for them to start. Something was to be
done, and they must be on hand. Their nonchalance
as they marched into the schoolroom was exasperat-
ing after all the time I had spent in anxious waiting.
VISITORS TO THE SCHOOL 111
In less than ten minutes the room was full of scholars
seated in order, with clean and shining faces and well
combed heads. Each child wore the wooden comb
stuck on the top of the head like a top-knot, for orna-
ment, and they evidently felt fine.
The variety and grotesqueness of their clothing
defies description. No doubt each one had assumed
the best thing he could find, no matter to whom it
belonged. Girls had on men's coats, some of which
were so big they reached to the ground. Boys had
entire suits made of bed-ticking and old horse blank-
ets. The chief thing seemed to be to prove how little
clothing could be made to cover them and keep them
on the verge of decency.
On this occasion they had followed my directions
to the letter. Some of the children looked as if
they had ducked their heads the last thing before
they started. The water was trickling down their
faces and into their necks.
One boy had half of his head shaved, while the
other half was untouched. A girl had put on a long-
sleeved apron I had given her, " hind side before,"
so as to wear it like a sack. I had written her name
on a piece of white paper and pinned it on the sleeve,
and she would not allow this to be taken off. Indeed,
she wore this name as long as her apron lasted, hav-
ing care enough to take it off when the apron was
washed, and then pinning it on again.
The whole school sat quiet, entirely unconscious
of the amused and curious gaze of our visitors. But
they, in their turn, were greatly attracted by the epau-
112 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
lets and bright buttons of the officers, and the
dresses of the ladies, which they carefully studied.
The scholars sang and counted, and answered some
general questions, then General Howard made a short
address, in which he gave them as a motto, " To try
hard." This all could understand. So when he
asked what he should tell their friends at the North
about them, they all answered, " Tell 'em we'se goin'
to try hard."
At another school General Howard asked this ques-
tion, and a little boy answered, '' Massa, tell 'em we
In those early days, as since, there were many con-
flicting reports in regard to the contrabands. Some
of the friends of the freed people, as well as some
teachers, were more enthusiastic than judicious. Every-
thing was couleur de rose to them.
One day I saw a "missionary" indiscriminately
giving out clothing to a noisy crowd of negro women.
A huge creature, who was known to be an intolerable
•termagant, was impertinently demanding a better
gown than the one given her. The poor tired lady
sat ingulfed in a mass of second-hand clothing of all
" My dear good woman," she said, "if that don't
suit you, come and pick out what you like. Take
anything you want. Poor creature ! You do need a
better gown, I see."
Thereupon not only one, but a dozen " poor crea-
tures " rushed forward to help themselves.
I expressed surprise that she gave them so much
TISITOHS TO THE SCHOOL 113
liberty, whereupon she gazed at me reprovingly, and
sternly exclaimed, —
" Do you think these poor colored people will lie ?
Do you think they would steal ?^'* (with a rising in-
flection to each sentence) '' Answer me that." To
which I replied, —
'' My dear madam, they are human beings. If slav-
ery produces only saints and no sinners, in Heaven's
name let us leave these people in their old estate ! In
all other conditions we find the good and the bad. I
believe slavery engendered every vice under the sun.
It is our mission to help these people to overcome
evil, as well as to enlighten their ignorance."
Before the year was over I heard that this mission-
ary reported that the contrabands were hopelessly
stupid, and devoid of gratitude.
114 FIBST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
THE FIRST WINTER
One Sunday morning in the early spring we were
summoned to our little parlor to see General Saxton,
and found with hiui Secretary Stanton.
This was a visit full of interest to us, as the ap-
pearance in the military department of any friend
from Washington portended changes for good or
We found Mr. Stanton as genial and unassuming
as an old and Avell-known friend. He asked many
questions about the contrabands and about our work
with them, in all of which he seemed deeply inter-
ested. He said, —
'' Do you really think the contrabands can learn ? "
To which I replied, '' I know they can."
''I believe so," he said. "You are doing a great
work here, and T honor you for it."
He remarked upon the cosey appearance of our
house, saying, ''You seem to be quite comfortable
To which I replied, '' Yes, comfortable — not luxu-
rious certainly. But we only want comfort." I
SECRETARY STANTON 116
was then sitting upon an empty soap-box covered
with a bit of carpeting.
"Does Uncle Sam treat you well?" he asked, re-
ferring, I supposed, to our rations. We had recently
been cut down to very short allowance, owing to
the left wing of Sherman's army being quartered
" Poor Uncle Sam ! He has so many children to
feed, it is not surprising that some are overlooked," I
He held out his hand, saying, " God bless you ! I
am glad I came down here." He Avas sitting in an
old-fashioned cane-seated rocking-chair. Turning to
General Saxton, he said, " General, I have not felt so
comfortable as now since I left home, — no, not since
I first came to Washington ; and I should like to stay
We urged them to lunch with us and go to Sunday-
school, so as to see our people.
" No, that cannot be," he declared. " The General
can testify that public office is like a tread-mill : when
one steps in he must move on, and there is no halt
nor rest after that. And now the General looks
anxious to go. He sees me comfortable, so drives
General Saxton began to protest.^
" Oh ! I know. We really must go, for I am to
leave for Hilton Head this afternoon. I shall remem-
ber this as one of the pleasantest visits I have made
since I left home. I have been sick, but I feel sure
I could get well here. Good-by. I pitied you
when I came down, but I envy you now."
116 FIRST DAY^ WITH THE CONTBABANDS
I mention this, as it was one of the bright days in
our lives, which were just then very full of cares and
vexations and wearisome hours of labor. We needed,
too, encouraging words, for even at that time there
were many around us who considered the appellation
of N. T. — '' Nigger Teacher " — a most opprobrious
epithet, not infrequently applied. We should not
have regarded this had not certain good and well-
meaning persons sent us denunciatory letters, telling
us first that we " were throwing away our time " and
then that we should be ostracized.
Our visitors were just leaving, when word came
from the schoolhouse, ''Dem people do wait on you,
Upon inquiry, I found a crowd of men, women,
and children had come to Sunday-school. It was
then only eleven o'clock, and the regular hour for
school was 3 p.m. I sent word they had come too
early. " Oh ! us can wait on you," was the answer
We went to the schoolhouse at the usual hour, and
found '' Uncle Smart " had been waiting there with a
"big gang" since morning.
This old man was our self-appointed '' chief of
staff." He helped us at all times, and in every pos-
sible way. Seeing the General's carriage go by, he
felt sure something was to be done. So he quickly
mustered together all his neighbors, and brought
them along to school. When I expressed my regret
at this mistake, and this consequent long delay, —
" Oh ! us can wait," they said in the cheeriest manner.
MEDICAL ADVICE 117
Sunday seemed to be the day for setting things to
rights with the contrabands. Then they came to us for
advice and for medicine. We often wondered whether
they got this last ready for time of need, or if they
kept their ills in abeyance. As to the advice, I have
always found these people were much helped by kind
and hopeful words, more even than by drugs.
The winter of 1864-1865 was a sad time, for so
many poor creatures in our district were wretchedly
ill, begging for help, and we had so little to give
them. Many of the contrabands had pneumonia.
Great exposure, with scanty clothing and lack of
proper food, rendered them easy victims to the en-
croachments of any disease. I sent to Beaufort for
help. The first doctor who came was exasperatingly
indifferent. He might have been a brother of a
"bureau officer," who was sent down especially to
take care of the contrabands, and who wished all the
negroes could be put upon a ship, and floated out to
sea and sunk. It would be better for them and for
the world. When we expressed our surprise that
he could speak so of human beings, he exclaimed,
" Human beings ! They are only animals, and not
half as valuable as cattle."
When the doctor came, I went from room to room
and talked with the poor sick people, whose entire
dependence was upon us. Finally I could endure his
apathy and indifference no longer.
118 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
'' Leave me medicines, and I will take care of these
people as well as I can," I said.
'' Oh ! we only give Dover's powders and quinine,
and any one can deal them out," was his reply. In
time I added castor-oil and painkiller to my stock,
and then my medical stores were complete.
I could not, however, excuse the doctor, a man in
government employ, drawing a good salary with no
heart in his work. Beaufort was reported to be a
depot for officials whom government did not know
what to do with.
'' Sister Rose " was very ill ; and one Sunday a
woman came to beg me to go and see her, " fur her
has remonia [pneumonia], an' I 'specs her can't be no
sicker than her is," she said.
I found the sick woman lying on some moss in a
corner of an open room, with a crowd of people
around her, holding " praise." This was a kind of
farewell for her, as they had made up their minds she
could not get well. They begged me to read the
Bible to her, although she was apparently speechless
and could not hear. In the meantime they all talked
loudly and cheerfully around her. I told them to
leave the room so Rose could have more air. '' Oh !
her ain't min', fur her ain't know nothin'," they said.
Just as I left, I met good Dr. Durant, the post
surgeon, and took him in to see poor Rose. He
ordered the crowd to leave the room, then questioned
the woman, who opened her eyes, and could hear and
speak too. He prescribed quiet and nourishment,
and said, —
MEDICAL ADVICE 119
" Rose, you are not going to die. Don't let them
" No, massa," she whispered.
At first the negroes seemed to consider the doc-
tor's visit as clearly interfering with the decrees of
Providence. It was a pity to disturb one who was
so quiet and comfortable. But when Rose really got
well, they were all loud in their praises of the good
doctor, assuring me it was a miracle. " Ef Jesus
Christ hadn't stop an' help de doctor it couldn't be
Some women wished me to visit ^' Sister Rhina,"
an old woman who lived in the yard. " Us ain't
know what is de matter, but her ain't got her good
sense, an' brudder Ishmael [the old husband] don'
know what to do wid him."
When I saw the old woman I decided she had not
" much sense," but that she was more wicked than
weak. She was sitting comfortably by an open fire
wrapped in a blanket ; and when I spoke to her she
looked at me cunningly, but made no answer. I told
the women to let her alone, and when she was hungry
she would ask for something to eat ; and that when
sh^ asked for white bread and sugar, I would send
her some. Immediately her senses returned.
Old Ishmael got out of patience, and exclaimed,
" I is tired o' this, an' I is goin' to sen' she home."
Then turning to her angrily, " You'na said you
wanted to dead wid your own people. Now, why
don't you'na go an' dead wid dem, I axes ye ? "
This roused the old woman. " I ain't goin' to
120 FIKST DAYS WIO^H THE CONTRABANDS
dead," said she, " an' I ain't want to go wid my people
nohow. I is goin' to stay here wid missis."
After this she recovered rapidly, but the old man
could not forgive her, she made him '^ so tosicated in
his mind ; " so he sent her off to her own people as
"a no 'count nigger nohow."
During our first winter, refugees were constantly
coming into the department. General Saxton sent as
many as could possibly be located at '' Montgomery
Hill." At the beginning of the year the best working
people were taken from these barracks and distributed
around on the different plantations. Since so few of
the first refugees were left there, General Saxton
objected to the name of Montgomery Hill. "It" no
longer belonged to the people brought off by the
Montgomery raid." He suggested these quarters
should be named in honor of Colonel Silliman, who
had just died in the Beaufort hospital, and of whom
he spoke in the highest terms.
The new people were delighted with the new
name. It seemed to confer upon them individual
rights before unknown. They brought with them
great disorder and confusion, and they took possession
of the old barracks, but did nothing to improve them.
The old people who went away left dirt and debris
behind them. They had been promoted. Besides, the
new-comers were ^^ only Georgia niggers, anyhow."
They were "low down country niggers," not fit to
associate with the fine stock of South Carolina. Why,
MORE EEFUGEES 121
" their language was different. They said ' pa-a ' and
' ma-a ' very flat, and they always opened their mouths
wide Avhen talking, as if they were hungry."
The clannishness of the freed people was indescrib-
able. Those belonging to one family or one master
''ganged " together, and were always ready to fight
for each other. Little jealousies cropped out on the
different plantations. All were destitute and help-
less, but there were class distinctions. Th^ house-
servants were unwilling to associate with the field-
We found some of the rooms in Silliman district
not fit for pigs to stay in. Thereupon we tried to
institute a reform. The women heartily promised to
wash and scour and clean up as soon as they got
some " particular piece of work," then on hand, done.
It ended in promises.
There were between three hundred and four hun-
dred poor, ragged, destitute people to be helped.
Day after day we gave out clothing, with which we
were most generously supplied by our Northern
friends. Each garment was fitted to the wearer, and
with each donation we gave some wholesome advice
which was graciously received. We assured them
we should give most to those who were the most
tidy. If a woman had one clean, well-mended gown,
we were sure she would take care of~ another. To all
this they invariably replied, '' You is right, missis !
You is right ! "
Our piazza was often crowded with men and
women waiting for something. My heart sank when
122 FIKST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
I saw how forlorn and destitute they were. But we
carefully wrote down the names of the persons
helped, and kept a list of all articles given out. This
prevented any attempt at imposition. The contra-
bands had great respect and awe for " handwriting."
I discovered that some of the women came to me
covered with rags, hoping to excite pity. These we
sent off "in double-quick," they would say, — telling
them water, air, and sunshine were free. The super-
intendent would give them soap, and we would fur-
nish needles and thread. When they returned de-
cently tidy, we would attend to them. This usually
had the desired effect.
They had profound respect for quotations from the
Bible, so I repeated everything I could remember
that was appropriate. " He that hath clean hands
and a pure heart," etc. It had become a fixed habit
to say, " For you know the Bible says." One day I
said hurriedly to a woman, "- You know the Bible
says, ' A stitch in time saves nine.' " Her inevitable
and satisfied reply came all the same, " That's so,
missis. Us knows that." So I let it go.
A friend in the next room, overhearing our talk,
asked where ''a stitch in time " could be found in the
Bible. I was forced to reply I was like a German
friend who always quoted from " Shaakspear or the
Holy Beeble, I don't know which."
Next to visiting the sick, distributing clothing was
the most arduous duty that devolved upon us.
One Monday night, after two unusually busy days,
Saturday and Sunday, and six hours of active school-
MORE REFUGEES 123
work, I jotted down the demands made upon me
between daylight and dark.
First came Katy from '' Silliman," ''fur wash."
" Please, ma'am, Jane, Fanny Osborne's mother, beg
me fur ask you fur something good fur face pain.
Her very bad off."
" Well, I will send her a piece of flannel and some
mustard when Fanny goes home from school."
When I went down-stairs I found a grizzly, white-
bearded, miserable-looking old man standing on the
piazza with a bowl in his hand.
" Missis, I come fur beg you, ma'am, jes' fur leetle
morlasses, for something for drink. My t'roat so
bad, missis, I can't swaller noth.'ng."
" Well, Isaac, wait there, and I'll send you some."
Next came Edward, an old servant, and our hostler.
"I come to ax you. Miss Muttoom, fur a little
coarse t'read — no matter how coarse it am, itll do."
" Well, Edward, I will get you some when I go
This " well," which I unconsciously prefixed to all
answers, was like a staff to lean upon when weary.
I went over to school early, and found Aunt Dolly
there waiting for me.
" Missis, I kum fur ax you, ma'am, please read this
letter fur me."
"Ask Miss Fannie, Aunt Dolly, for I am very
She went to Miss Fannie, who tried in vain to
decipher the letter, but could not make out one word.
So it was returned to me. As I had written the
124 FIRST DAYS \YITH THE CONTRABANDS
letter to which this was an answer, by well-directed
questions I succeeded in making out the general
purport of the document, which I read off to Dolly's
'^ Now, missis, when will you answer this letter
back fur me? "
"' You must ask Miss Fannie, Aunt Dolly. Per-
haps she can write to-morrow for you."
" Well, missis, ef I kin git some paper an' a wellup,
I'se sure to come."
On our way home we passed old Ishmael's room.
The old man was sitting in his doorway, bent nearly
double, and groaning aloud.
" Missis, I mus' beg you fur something fur pain in
the back," he moaned. " The pain is so drefful, it
'pears as ef I can't stan' it no how."
" I am very sorry, but really, I have nothing to
give you. If I had some painkiller, it would be
good; or even some pepper-sauce, you should have
"Well, missis, some o' dem people say a pitch-
pine plaster is bery helpful, an' I jes' put one on, the
misery was so bad. I reckon I'll see ef it don' help
me. An' I knows you does what you kin. Look,
missis, an' see what a basket I is making fur you,"
having regained his cheerfulness with astonishing
When I reached my own house I found several
colored women standing on the piazza waiting.
'' Missis, us kum fur see you fur some very per-
tikler business," they said.
MORE REFUGEES 126
^' I am engaged just now," I replied, for I saw some
white friends were sitting in the house. " Can you
" Oh, yes, missis, long 'nuff. Us ain't hasty. Oh,
yes, us kin wait ; " they all exclaimed most heartily.
When I had time to attend to them, I found they
wanted to tell me about " poor sick Cumber. Her
gone to bed an' have a fine gal ; but I tell you, ma'am,
her bad off. Her punish too much," meaning she
suffered too much.
This was, then, the reason so many women came
together. They wished to bear united testimony in
poor Cumber's case, for they knew very welh we
would have nothing to do with one like her. But
their tenderness overcame our scruples. Their readi-
ness to help the poor erring girl made me ashamed.
So I made up the usual bundle of baby-clothes and
comfortable things for the mother, which they were
to carry to her.
Many times before and since have I tried to resist
the touching appeal of these poor, ignorant, tender-
hearted women for their down-fallen sisters. One
morning early an old nurse came to me for help for
one of these wretched creatures. After telling me
her story, she said, —
''O missis, ef you could jes'~pit your eyes on her,
it would hurt you. Her's that bad off, you mus^ feel
"Don't tell me anything about her. Aunt Judy! "
I exclaimed, trying to harden my heart. " She
knows better than to live as she has done."
126 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
" In course, missis ; in course ! I ain't say noth-
ing agin that. But, poor creeter," — with a deep
'' What is she to you. Aunt Judy? " I asked.
" Oh, nothing, ma'am, only dey's all massa's
This was a case that had tried me very much. I
thought, too, I must make this case an example.
So in spite of the old woman's appeal, which brought
tears to my eyes, I said, —
"Don't talk to me. Aunt Judy. I have said I
would do nothing for that girl, and I must keep my
She dropped her head, and said very slowly, —
" That's so, ma'am. You knows best. You mus^
be right, fur you'na kin read the Bible, an' so you
mus' know best. But I has to go now to the gal,
poor creeter! Them wimmins is waiting on me,"
and she made a courtesy, and turned to leave the
" You kin read the Bible, an' you knows more'na
me," she had said. And what does the Bible teach
me ? "- Let him that is without fault cast the first
I sprang up, and called her back. It seemed to me
I could not work fast enough while making up the
bundle of clothing and groceries which I well knew
were so much needed.
Her thanks and praise were really humiliat-
^' God bless you, ma'am ! You ain't know how
MORE REFUGEES 127
glad I is. I shall run back now, an' all dem wimmins
will be so glad too."
All day her words were in my mind. " You mus^
know best." What did I know, that I should sit in
judgment? Absolutely nothing.
128 FIKST DAYS WITH THE CONTKABANDS
Seeing so much destitution around us made our
own lives, meagre as they were, seem luxurious by
comparison. But we were not posing as '' saints
without bodies," and it was sometimes a desperate
struggle to keep ourselves comfortable. At first
there was nothing by which to note time ; no clocks
nor bells nor steam- whistles. There were two watches
belonging to our "mess." When one was at the
schoolhouse there was nothing to guide the cook at
The dial of the contrabands was : " When the first
fowl crow" — ''At crack o' day" — ''W'ende sun
Stan' straight ober head " — '' At frog peep " —
''When fust star shine " — " At flood tide," or
"ebb tide," or "young flood" — "On las' moon,"
or " new moon." Now they add to this list " quar-
But these data did not help our cook to work, nor
us to regular meals.
Our first cook, Amy, was a refugee from James
Island. She had belonged to a wealthy planter and
had been a field-hand. Before the war she was de-
tailed to cook for the overseer. Now that she had
been installed as cook and housekeeper, she was much
set up, and put on many fine airs.
• In some places the first people who were freed were
treated with injudicious consideration. They were
told they were by right the owners of the land upon
which they had worked so long, etc.
Whatever sentiment there was in this, we had to
remember we were dealing with people just born into
a new life, who had to learn the meanings of their
new conditions. Like children, they were to be given
what they could assimilate.
For instance, I was advised not to ask the old
house servants to work for me ; for they were in fact
the masters and mistresses of the place, — of the sit-
uation they were for a time, if they only knew it, but
of nothing else. Said my adviser, ''I have no more
right to ask Cornelia, the old laundress, to wash for
me, than she has to ask me to do her washing.^'
I replied that laundry work had not been my busi-
ness : I came to teach the freed people to help them-
Whatever they could do better than I, in so far
they were my superiors. In consideration of their
''previous condition," I gave them my time and in-
struction, whilst I should pay regular wages for their
labor. But I should expect good work, and no
Amy fell ill, and was as full of whims and fancies
as any modern fine lady. In spite of the "hard road
130 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
we had to travel," the situation was ludicrous in the
extreme at times. Here was a huge creature, as black
as a crow, coarse and selfish, who had installed her-
self in one of the best rooms of the plantation house,
a thing unheard of in " old secesh times." Day after
day we came from school, cold, tired, and hungry,
and found no fire in the house and no fuel to burn.
It was often dark before we could stop to think of
ourselves, and then we had to hunt around for sup-
plies, and then wait for our own dinner to be cooked.
We had good milk and hominy, which usually served
for luncheon. We could only get bread and crackers
from the commissary, five miles away, upon which
we could make requisition once a week. The sta-
ple articles of our diet were coffee and corn-bread,
and pork and potatoes. To these were added a
little rice and some flour. Sometimes we had na-
tive oysters and eggs. So when Amy, who had an
enormous appetite, declared she must have "white
bread, 'cause she couldn't eat coarse vittles," —
although she and her grandson Will had most of the
pork which they especially liked, — the scene became
Will, too, was a character. He had been hired to
help his grandmother and to wait at table. He was
about ten years old, straight as an arrow, the per-
sonification of dignity and the condensation of all
Our cooking was done in an outside kitchen, and
Will laid the table. Everything for the meals went
through their hands and theirs only. In vain did we
look after everything ; putting a good supply of
coffee into the pot before we sent it out, and counting
the eggs and potatoes to be cooked. The coffee-pot
would come back filled with a very weak decoction,
and everything else would be minus its original
quantity. We laid the case before Amy, who de-
clared, " It mus' be dat good-f er-nothin' boy Will, fur
he's de sassiest nigger, an' I'll lick him well fur dat."
We spoke of these shortcomings in Will's presence,
but he stood as stiff and unconscious as an iron post.
He rolled his eyes, but not a muscle of his face
Finally, one night I gave especial care to the
arrangements of the tea-table ; it was the first intro-
duction of a tablecloth and napkins into our simple
lives. I placed a bowl of crushed sugar on the table,
and then went into the ''drawing-room" for a few
minutes, leaving Will standing on guard near the
open door. I was gone but a very short time, and
when I returned. Will was standing as I left him,
with his arms folded. On lifting the cover of the
sugar-bowl, I found it empty. There was not even
the smallest particle, showing it had been well
shaken. I could have believed I had not filled the
bowl, had I not found the empty paper from which it
had been taken.
We questioned Will, who declared he knew noth-
ing about it, so we decided if he could not keep
these unseen and mischievous spirits out of the room
he was no use to us. We turned him over to his
grandmother, who was greatly put out about it,
132 FIRST DAYS WITH THE COKTRABANDS
declaring we '' couldn't 'spec' me to bring wood
and water like dem no-'count niggers," muttering
something about "poor white buckra, anyhow."
Just at that time one of the superintendents, a
Northern gentleman, became hopelessly ill, and it
was necessary he should have a regular nurse. So
Dr. Durant brought Aunt Mary Ann from the hospi-
tal in Beaufort. She was a tall, erect, light-brown
woman, with unusually fine bearing and manners,
and great natural ability. Amy was slowly and
sullenly putting breakfast on the table when Auntie
came in. She immediately began to courtesy to her
in the most obsequious manner. I never saw more
abject servility displayed.
Auntie surveyed her haughtily, and then said,
" You here. Amy ! Well, I hope you will try to be
a good and decent girl."
From that time, our obstreperous cook was a
changed being; quiet, orderly, helpful, and pains-
taking. But I had no faith in her reformation, and
I engaged at once good Ann Jane, one of the refugee
women in Silliman district.
Auntie was an invaluable acquisition to our house-
hold while she remained with us. She told me much
of her story before she left. It was extremely
pathetic — an epitome of parts ®f " Uncle Tom's
Cabin." She and Amy had belonged to the same
master, but she was the mauma and housekeeper,
and confidential servant with both master and mis-
tress. Always living in the house and associating
with white people only, she had but few if any negro
TENTH ARMY CORP^ 1S3
proclivities. She also had white blood in her veins.
But " Amy always was a low-lived, deceitful girl,
who gave Master Paul no end of trouble."
Tenth Army Corps.
It was an exciting time when Sherman's army
marched through Georgia. The left wing, or " Tenth
Army Corps," marched to Beaufort. A long pro-
cession of gunboats sailed up the river past our
place. No one knew at first whether these were
friends or foes. So there was a regular stampede
amongst the colored people, who hid away, or locked
themselves into their houses. The children stood on
the river-bank and shouted, ready to fly to the school-
house should danger threaten them. They soon
made out the Union colors, and then there were the
wildest shouts and manifestations of delight.
The first soldiers who landed in Beaufort supposed
they were still in hostile territory, and they immedi-
ately took possession of the town, helping themselves
to whatever they could lay their hands on. They
were intoxicated with success, and for a few hours
ran riot. General Saxton placed a strong guard
around the town, with strict orders that no colored
people should enter the lines. As soon as the
superior officers arrived, order was restored. But
with the army came a great gang of contrabands to
be housed and rationed and taken care of.
For forty-eight hours we were barricaded from the
town, then General Saxton sent an orderly with a
permit for us to enter the lines, "good for thirty
134 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
Many funny stories were told of the attempts of
the colored people to get through the lines. The
negro soldiers made vigilant sentinels, but it took
time for them to understand their duties. A sentinel
was asked one night if he had the countersign. He
said, " Dey tole me not to let any one pass, 'less'n he
said Charleston." Some young officers, one of whom
told us the story, wanted to try him. He halted
them and shouted out, " Who comes dar ? Halt,
frien', an' gib de countersign Charleston,^''
But they soon learned their duties, and rarely
needed to be told the same thing twice. When the
Thirty Third U. S. C. T. was quartered at Old Fort,
the sentinels were ordered at one time not to allow
any boat to leave the shore without special instruc-
tions. One night a boat load of contrabands, men
and women, were out in a gale and were upset near
the old fort. The sentinel on guard, with others,
helped to get them on land, and they were sent to the
negro quarters to get dry and wait until the wind
went down. About midnight they started for their
boat, but were stopped by the same sentinel, who re-
fused to let them leave " till de quar'masser say so,"
although he knew them well. So the poor quarter-
master had to be called up and go down to the shore
and assure the sentinel it was all right.
We soon learned that life in a military department,
especially near the camping-ground, had many tribu-
For the month that Sherman's army was stationed
in and around Beaufort all supplies were used for
TENTH ARMY CORPS 135
the military. The weather became exceedingly cold.
Ice formed and did not melt all day. For three
weeks we could get no rations from Beaufort, and we
were very nearly reduced to our own supply of sweet
potatoes and hominy and milk.
This hominy was ground between two flat stones,
one of which was stationary and the other was moved
by hand by means of an upright stick inserted in a
groove in the stone. It was a slow and tedious pro-
cess, but always enlivened by the songs and jokes of
the colored people when grinding. Two or three
always came together, as one could not move the
One of these primitive mills placed under a small
open shed was very near to our house. Often there
were people grinding corn in this mill every hour,
day and night. Boys and girls would come in pro-
cession with their " fanners " filled with corn perched
on the top of their heads. Singing and laughing and
joking they would wait hours for a turn to grind, as
each must come in order.
At night the older people came and ground by the
light of a pine torch fastened to a post. All night
long I could hear the whizzing of the wheel and the
shouts of the people. I have dropped to sleep hear-
'* O believer, go ring that bell, ring that bell, ring that bell;
O believer, go ring that bell, ring that charming bell,^*
the words and the tunes mingling with my dreams.
When I awoke in the morning they were still singing,
but it was now, —
*' Roll Jordan, roll Jordan, roll Jordan, roll.*'
136 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
All kept time by clapping their hands and stamping
their feet, the bass now and then calling out, " Start
up ! " " Don't go to sleep ! "
One who has not heard these spirituals under such
circumstances cannot understand their power and
pathos. I can never hear them, even at this date,
without emotion. A picture rises before me of a large
room so bright wdth moonlight that I could read a
letter. The soft air moves the nettings, while the
early songs of the mocking-birds mingle with the dis-
tant shouts of the negroes at the mill.
I find in my note-book, dated Jan. 14, 1865, this
entry : —
** We hear that Sherman's army is crossing to the mainland to-
day. Are glad that the soldiers are leaving our neighborhood.
For a month we have been demoralized.
^' It has been almost impossible to keep the contrabands under
our care in order, and it has been difficult to ration the new-comers
and make them comfortable. All our supplies have been stopped.
It was not possible to get our letters, the mails have been so crowded
with military documents. We hear there is a mass of boxes at
Hilton Head ' waiting to be moved/ but no room for them yet on
the overloaded boats. Truly, our lives have been like a seething
Olarinda an* we Family.
The new-comers crowded in upon us. The rela-
-tionships of the last refugees were more puzzling than
the first. One day Clarinda from the Grove — the
people called her " Clarinda Grobe" — came with a
small army. She began to introduce them.
'' Only we fambly live on Wordier hill. Dat am
my sister Wireginny, — scrape yer foot, gal,^ — an' dat
CLAEINDA an' WE FAMILY 137
am my cousin Rhiner, an' Lizbeth Blue am my sister
too. Stan' up, gals, an' show yer manners."
Most of these were new people. Clarinda had been
ahead of the others and came to school a few days, so
she was supposed to have " larned her eddication."
" But I thought Elizabeth Blue's father was Char-
lotte's husband," I said.
" Oh, yes. Auntie Charlotte hab we pa. We pa
kum over 'fore us did, an' lef we on de main, kase
de rebs run ma an' de chillen up into de country to
keep 'em from de Union. Den we pa hab Auntie
Charlotte, an' w'en us kum him stay wid her, an' my
ma ain't got nobody now."
" Auntie Charlotte " had been to school the day
before with her ''step-daughter Lizbeth," who had
just "come in," her two boys. Primus and Sandy,
and a new Blue baby in her arms. I did not then
suspect her family complications.
''Becky Ford am my auntie too. Her hab but
one arm; t'other one groun' off in de rice-mill. Massa
mad one day, an' say him didn't feed de mill fas'
'nuff, an' him beat her, an' w'en him raise de arm to
fend off de blow him jacket sleeve ketch in de wheel,
an' 'fore dey could stop de wheel she arm groun' off
clear up to de shoulder."
Clarinda spoke with much indignation.
I sent for Becky Ford. She was a quiet, cheerful-
looking woman, scrupulously neat in her dress. I
referred to the loss of her right arm.
" Oh, I can do 'nuff t'ings wid t'oder arm," she said.
"Massa didn't 'tend to do it. Him was wexe4---^
138 FIKST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
folks mus' git wexed sometimes. Him do his best
to stop de mill. Him say, ' Beckj^, I'm real sorry,
but you is too d — d careless, gal.' Au' him made
dem wimmins min' me well ! "
Not a word of resentment from her, only a grate-
ful remembrance of words kindly spoken, although
accompanied by an oath; and of gentle care and
attention. Since then she had " minded child," and
learned to do many things skilfully with her left
She came regularly to school, and learned to read
with wonderful rapidity, and to write legibly with
her left hand. She was ''mad fur larn," as one of
her companions expressed it. Patiently waiting and
listening to the others she learned the reading lessons
by heart. She soon became a self-appointed monitor,
keeping the small children in order, over whom she
had great influence.
With Becky Ford was another woman who was very
black and very resolute. Her name was Affey.
She said, " I come from de rebs free weeks ago.
I belonged to uncommon mean man : what you might
call right down cruel master. He drove us off his
plantation 'cause us wouldn't work for him nex' year.
Us made crop fur him las' year an' den he wouldn't
give us nothin', an' he drove us off wid dogs an' guns.
I was boarn in him ban's, but him too mean for any-
thing. Wen de Union soldiers wur near us some
o' de young ban's run off to git to de Union folks, an'
massa ketch dem an' hang dem to a tree, an' shoot
dem J he t'ink no more'n to shoot de culled people
OLARINDA an' WE FAMILY 139
right down. He shoot more'n twenty-five prime han's,
— nice young people. I couldn't tell you of all de
deaths by him. But t'ank God, I got away, an' him
won't git me agin."
She said she had an " old mother " and '' an old
husband " and a " lettle boy." She gave a different
"title " for each. But I had ceased to be puzzled by
A little girl in her ''gang" looked literally as if
she had lived on ashes, she was so emaciated. She
gave her name as " Loiza ; " but when asked her
title said, ''I lef him (meaning it) on de main."
A most forlorn and pitiable-looking woman in
Affey's gang said, "I run away 'cause master too
bad ; couldn't stay no longer."
Affey had with her a poor little girl who gave her
name as ''Pleasant Riddle." Affey said, "I ain't
know where her come from, nor who'se her folks.
But her hadn't nowhere to go, an' no f ambly, — no
fader, an' no mudder, an' nobody : I couldn't lef him
so, an' I take him wid me."
We fitted these people out with clothing and gave
each a piece of soap. The next day they all appeared
at school, dressed anew, with hands and faces clean
and shining as if polished. They looked like quite
another " gang."
By this time it was generally considered the proper
thing for all refugees to come " to the yard " to " make
their manners," to the "white ladies."
One day a clean and intelligent-looking woman
appeared to thank us for teaching her children.
140 rmsT days with the contrabands
" I was born on dis island," she said, '' but was run
off by rebs and carried 'way up in de country." Her
husband, an old man, was left behind. "• I lef ' him in
de house, an' I meet him dere agin. The chillen
run away from master an' lef me behind. Him
carry me 'way off, but I followed on an' on till I git
here at last. I am mighty proud de chillen can git
larnin. I tries to larn from dem myself, a little ebery
One day a woman came under our care whose story
was thrilling. She had been cook and valuable house
servant on a plantation in Georgia. When the
troublesome times came, and the slaves began to run
off, her master swore she should stay and cook for
him and his family. He " would fix her;" so he had
heavy iron shackles put on her feet so she could not
run off. In this manner she had to drag herself
around her kitchen all day, and at night she was
locked into the corn-house.
When Sherman's army approached all the family
hurried off, and left this poor creature caged like a
wild beast. Her moans attracted the attention of
some of the stragglers, who broke down the door, and
carried her along with them, having no time nor means
to remove her shackles. In this condition she was
partly dragged and partly carried a long distance.
The iron bands had worn deep into the flesh. The
muscles were fearfully strained and swollen. Even
her eyes were ready to start from their sockets. But
she never complained. Her sufferings were un-
heeded. She was hunting for freedom.
CLARINDA AN* WE FAMILY 141
" Thank God, missis," she said the first time I saw
her. She had crawled to the house and was lying
on the piazza when we reached home. " Thank
God I'se foun' freedom at last ! Dear bressed Lord
Jesus ! I'se so thankful ! I t'ink, missis, I mus' give
up 'fore I git here, but dem people tell me de school-
missis would help me. An' now I is here, O bressed
Massa, I is ready to die ef I kin only larn one t'ing to
take up wid me w'en I go to de Big Massa."
Her exhaustion was so great it seemed for a time
as if her new life was to be only spiritual freedom.
My eyes fill with tears even now when I recall her
emaciated, prostrate form, her bleeding, swollen feet,
and her look of exaltation at having found freedom,
rest, and security at last.
She was removed to Beaufort, where she had the
best medical attention. She recovered enough to
rejoice with her people over emancipation. But her
feet were never healed.
To our expressions of pity for her, she would
invariably reply, -—
" O missis! 'tain't no matter. I ain't min'. An'
I is so happy. I is free now, an' de Big Massa knows
it. An' I kin say, —
'* ' I want to be an angel,
An' wid de angels stan',
' A crown upon my forehead,
A harp within my hand.' "
This she said with a chuckle of delight.
'' Think o' that, missis ! Oh, think o' that ! Some
o' them school-teachers larn me that. They tell me
142 FIKST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
more, but I say I ain't min' to larn the rest. That's
'nuff to tell the Big Massa, w'en I sees Him, an'
Him axes me to say something. O bressed Jesus ! "
This is but one of very many such stories of those
trying times. Each teacher had her own experiences.
But our mission was especially with the refugees.
Our lives were like the post-boy's. We might well
** Like a shuttle thrown by the hand of Fate,
Forward and back we go."
One evening when driving, we met a very bright-
looking colored woman whom we knew.
" Us going to well fur water fur the lady what
bring we up, an' was like a muther to we," she said.
" Her is come back, an' is awful poor an' sick, an' us
all say us can't stan' seein' her workin' fur herself,
bringin' water, an' sich-like, fur she bin very kin' to
we. Ole massa an' my mudder was babies togedder,
an' him was very good to we, an' them bring we up
as chillin', an' they t'ink a heap ob we. Massa set
great store by my mudder, an' us mus' help them
We applauded her for such good feelings and good
actions, and she left us very happy, singing as she
went on her way.
WRITING LETTERS 143
Much of our spare time — if by any stretch of
the imagination we could be supposed to have spare
time — was employed in writing letters for the freed
people. Every day two or three of these would come
to us " fur write a letter " to some friend whose name
and title they did not know, nor to what place the
letter was to be directed. They always thought that
those who could " put down handwriting " must
know everything else.
These epistles were sent to every nook and corner
of the Confederacy, hunting for lost members of
scattered families. We had a very large number of
these newly freed people under our care, and all
wanted to send greetings to friends left behind.
Writing letters was one of the first duties that
pressed upon us in the beginning of winter. Women
who had husbands and sons and lovers in the regi-
ments were eager to communicate with them. One
day five or six of these women came, each with a
sheet of paper carefully folded in her apron or hand-
kerchief, to beg me to write their letters. This was
my first experience of the kind, and I could with dif-
ficulty understand what they said.
144 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
It was a very cold day. We had just secured part
of an old cooking-stove, and had it put into our din-
ing-room, hoping to take away a little of the intense
chilliness which pervaded the whole house.
Before I began to write, I asked one of the women
to put some wood in the stove, and start up the fire.
I had noticed they all regarded this black iron thing
with much curiosity, inspecting it from all sides.
One woman said, '' Him fur fire ? " to which I nodded
assent, and pointed to the door. I did not know
until some time later that not one of them had ever
seen a stove before.
The first woman opened the door cautiously, as if
afraid. Then she carefully put some wood inside,
and quickly shut the door.
I was so busy I thought no more about it, until my
fingers were too stiff to move. Then I told another
woman to look after the fire, as I thought it must
have gone out. She opened the door and peered in,
and then said, '' I 'specs him'll burn, ma'am. You
jes' wait." And wait I did until I felt congealed to
the very marrow of my bones. Then I went to
examine, and found they had put the wood into the
stove oven. I thought this a good time to give them
an object lesson, so with a match and some paper and
kindlings, I soon had a roaring blaze, explaining the
process as I went along. They were greatly aston-
ished and delighted as they basked in the genial heat.
" Us ain't know, but now you show we, us'll do
all right anodder time. Oh, but him kin scream ! "
— meaning roar — they said, laughing.
WRITING LETTERS 145
These women were from the rice-swamps. The
first one wanted a letter written to her husband,
whom she called " My old man." As nearly as I
could make out, her direction was to " Gibberty John-
son," in '^ Colonel Markley's regiment, Co. E
Street," but she did not know what else. She wished
me to say that she was well, and all the folks were
well, and she sent how-d'ye and so did they, men-
tioning a long list of names, as " your father sends
how-d'ye," and " your mother sends how-d'ye,"
giving each name. She directed him " to say his
praise," and to answer this letter right back as soon
as he got it, and to send her some money. " There she
stopped. When asked " What else ? " " Why, you
know, ma'am," she said. Evidently to her mind
there was but one outline for letters, which I was
expected to fill up.
All the others were much the same, but with differ-
ent names. I advised these women to take their
epistles to some officer in town and get them properly
directed, feeling sure they would never reach their
Later in the winter the first woman came again to
get a letter written, complaining she could not hear
from her " old man." I now discovered her direction
was " Jupiter Jones, ma'am." Alas ! her first effort
was all wrong. I felt sure the " Gibberty Johnson "
document never reached him.
I saw a party of young girls waiting on the piazza
one Saturday morning ; and, as each had paper and
a "wellup," I concluded they came for letter-writ-
146 FIKST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
ing. To my question, if they had come to see me,
they replied demurely, —
''Us wait on Miss Fannie. You come^ Miss Fan-
nie ; you know best what to say! " they all exclaimed
eagerly, as that young lady appeared. These were
love-letters evidently, and they were all very merry
So Miss Fannie seated herself at a little table on
the open piazza.
" Well, now, Georgie, you come first," she said.
"What shall I write?"
'' Why, you know. Miss Fannie," surprised at the
" But how shall I begin ? Who are you writing
''Mr. Wm. Lee, Co. G Street."
" Very well. What next ? Shall I say ' My dear
" Now, Miss Fannie ! What would you say ? You
mus' be write letters like 'a this."
" Oh ! but I never wrote to Mr. Wm. Lee. Is he
your husband ? "
" Ye-es — no-o," — hesitatingly.
" Oh, he is ! " exclaimed all the girls. " You know
"Well, I haven't got the tiffity [certificate] yet,
an' so I sha'n't call him that. An' I don't want him
to t'ink I care much ef he never come back. Only
to know I 'member him sometimes. You mus' talk
stiff, but kind'a easy too."
So the young lady did the best she could; and
WRITIKG LETTERS 147
when she read the letter over to them, they all
shouted with delight, and one exclaimed, —
''I tell you, writing-larning's a powerful thing."
The next girl, Jane, said, —
" Now, Miss Fannie, I want you to write jes' as if
you is talking to your own luvyer [lover], an' you
'specs him to marry you'na w'en he gits home. You
knows w'at to say."
The young lady disclaimed the knowledge and the
implied lover, at which they all exclaimed, " Oh ! you
is. Miss Fannie. You is got a hundred tousand luv-
yers," clapping their hands with great glee.
All these girls were pure black, — a fine lot.
Girl number three walked boldly to the table, and
" Now I am going to talk my letter, an," turning
to her companions, ''you mus'n't gap a word. I know
jes' w'at to say. This is to Mr. John Gardener, or-
derly sergeant. Tell him I can't forgit him, an' I
'specs him ain't forgit me. I stan' jes' where he lef
me, an' I shall stan' there 'till he gits back ; an' ef he
never comes back, I shall stan' there still as long as I
This is the couple Colonel Higginson speaks of in
his '' Black Regiment," as " John wants fur marry
Venus." When the First South United States Col-
ored Troops, was quartered at the Old Fort Planta-
tion, the wedding was arranged, and John's com-
pany all invited. But just before the chaplain
arrived to perform the ceremony, the soldiers were
called to arms and marched off, and the bride and
148 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
her friends were left standing, disconsolately watch-
ing their disappearance.
The next girl, Susannah, said she wanted to come
last, and all the girls must go away, so '^ only Miss
Fannie one " could hear what she had to say. The
others good-naturedly jeered at this, saying, ''Her
'fraid o' we," ''Her shame," etc.; but she was firm,
so they left.
" Now, Miss Fannie, I want yer to write strange
to this gentleman. Yer mus' say, ' Sir,' fur I don't
call him my friend. Tell him he needn't exscuse fer
writing, for I is more'n sprise to get his lettei's, sence
he ain't no cause for writing. I ain't know w'at he
t'inks of me. Does he t'ink I is an apple way down
on de groun', under his foot, that he can stoop down
[making a very low gesture], an' pick up wid his
hans' ? Tell him I isn't dat. I is an apple high up
on de top branch ob de tree. I ain't fur drop in his
mouth, an' he can't reach me wid his ban's [stretch-
ing her arms high above her head]. Ef he jump an'
jump, till he jump his head off, he can't reach up to
We never knew whether there was an answer
returned to this decisive letter, or not ; but in a few
months Susannah was married to a bright young
fellow, one of her schoolmates, and one of her own
gang of refugees.
One day a strange woman came, and said, " Missis,
I come for git letter write back to Savannah."
" What is your name, auntie ? "
" Peggy Owens, ma'am. Don't you knoiv me ?
WRITING LETTERS 149
Why, Miss Fannie do, for she talked to me one night
by my door."
They are always surprised that we do not remem-
ber them as readily as they do us.
"Well, Peggy, I am going to school now. You
will be obliged to wait."
" Oh ! I can wait all day for you, ma'am."
When I returned from school at noon I heard her
story, and wrote her letter, a copy of which lies
before me. It was the same touching recital of a
hard experience which we were so constantly hear-
ing. Driven out of Savannah by a cruel master, she
and her husband fled with Sherman's army, although
she had a baby but a few days old. Of course they
brought nothing with them.
From Beaufort they were sent to one of the most
remote houses in our district, where they both grew
sick and the baby died. All the contrabands, espe-
cially the last who " came in," were sickly for a time
from so great exposure, change of climate, water, etc.
She wrote to the elder of her church, —
** Father Cuffy Anderson, I beg you to have praise in the church
for me. Ask all the friends to pray for me, for I have lost my
husband, — am a lone woman. There is no one left for me now but
God. I give my best love to all my fellow-servants. The morning
before my husband, Caddy Owens, died, he called me to him and
said, ' Peggy, I was in a house last night not made with hands, — a
big white house. I am going to leave you, gal, but I ain't going
to fret 'bout you, for we been fight together a long time, and you'll
brush on till you come to me.'
** The next morning he said, * Peggy, if you please to get up and
make me some gruel, we'll drink together once more, and that will
be for communion, for I'm goin', gal.'
150 FIRST DAYS WITH THE aOKTKABANDS
*'I did so, an' when he drink it he said, ^ Thank God! ' an' he
laid down for a space of time. Then he called me and said, * I'm
going now, gal, but don't fret. When I git up there I'll prepare a
place for you.' I cried, 'O boy, don't leave me all alone! But
he just laid back and folded his hands, and looked up to heaven
and smiled. Oh, Father Cuffy! he didn't die, but he sleeps."
I wrote the letter exactly in her own words. She
was from Savannah, and her dialect was very different
from that of the people on the islands or from the
rice districts. I asked if she had a good master.
She put her hands over her face with a shudder, and
then said, —
" Oh ! he was very bad. I cannot tell you all the
cruel things he did to us. There is no ugly thing
you ever heard of but what he would do. But I
thank God for all, the good and the bad. I yet live
and I am free, and I thank God."
She had never recovered from her first sickness,
and was only able 'Ho crawl around." When the
letter was finished she left me ; but towards night I
found her lying under the trees near the house, with
her face turned to the sky, looking as happy as if
well and resting " on a downy bed of ease." I was
startled, and said, —
'^ Why, who is this?"
" It's me, Peggy, ma'am. I am resting a bit before
I go home. I felt so weak I thought I would wait
until it gets cooler."
'' But, Peggy, have you had anything to eat? "
" Oh, yes, ma'am ! last night. Katy is very good.
She gives me gruel. But she is sick, and I come off
before she was up."
WRITING LETTERS 151
'' Well, Peggy, you can get back to the house,
can't you ? Go to Aunt Jane, and tell her I send you
for some hominy and bread and tea, and then you can
go home in the cool of the evening."
After this we saw her from time to time until she
went back to her friends in Savannah. We had
most excellent reports of her, and that she was the
happiest woman on Port Royal Island.
Writing these letters for the freed people was our
best means of becoming acquainted with their char-
acters and needs and of helping them. We set apart
two afternoons in the week for this purpose, but this
was by no means sufficient time for all their corre-
spondence. I think half the men in the Thirty Third
and Thirty Fourth Regiments, U. S. C. T., had families
or relatives under our care.
The soldiers had made wonderful progress in their
writing, of which, of course, they were very proud.
Each letter was an improvement upon the one before.
Most of these were written by the soldiers them-
selves. They always asked that 'Hhis letter may
be turned back to me as soon as possible."
The women could not get on as fast as the men.
They had children to care for, and more work to do,
and but little leisure. The men had hours " off duty,"
and were taught by the chaplains and other teachers
in camp ; but the women must leave their houses
and come to the schoolhouse when they wished " to
catch a lesson." So they brought their letters to us,
and we often wrote for them until after dark. It
was extremely difficult to write or read after the
152 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
lamps were lighted; for every bug and insect ever
known surrounded the light like a cloud, and were as
troublesome as the plagues of Egypt.
One night I wrote six letters, — one from a sick
mother to her son, and another from a young mother
to the father of her child. "" And he been born free,
thank God ! O missis ! when the boys come from the
wars there will be lots of weddings, please God ! "
These letters were very touching. There Avere
such exhortations to constancy, and protestations of
eternal devotion. I think the men understood what
freedom meant for them much better than the women
did. They comprehended that they had rights, and
this alone would make heroes out of chattels. The
women sang, "We must fight for liberty:" the men
had already fought for it.
Three of the letters I wrote that night were to
lovers, full of dignity and tenderness.
''I would give my eyes to see you."
" Jesus is good. I is sure him will bring you back
" I eat you and I drink you."
One girl was displeased with her lover.
" Does you t'ink I'm foolin' ? I is true forebber.
You treat me as a gentleman, I will treat you as a
lady. You ax me for money. I send you two dol-
lars. I nebber been paid for my work yet, an' I has
no money for myself. But I has money for you
whenebber you axes."
One letter I wrote at the request of one of my good
friends, a poor, broken-hearted old woman whose only
WRITING LETTERS 153
daughter had a husband in Colonel Higginson's regi-
ment. About a year before this he became terribly
home-sick, and he deserted and came back. Then he
was caught and sent to Fort Pulaski. That was like
a death-blow to his wife, who was never seen to smile
after he was taken away. In time she had a baby
girl. In the meantime Robert, the husband, behaved
so well he won a reprieve. When baby was three
weeks old the chaplain wrote, saying, '' In two days
Robert will be discharged and return to his regiment."
That was too much for his poor wife : joy did
what grief could not. The next morning she was
found dead with her baby unconsciously sleeping in
'' Do, missis, please write to Robert," said the old
grandmother, who sat all the time, day and night, on
a blanket on the floor watching and tending the baby.
" Tell him Amoretta did not die, but the good Lord
jes' took her straight up to hebben to hisself." It
was a sad and difficult letter to write.
Thus, as the hours moved along, there came in
quick succession a constant train of joys and sor-
rows for us to share and help. We did what we
could, and trusted God for the rest.
Just after the surrender of Charleston an old
woman came to me "fur read one letter" which had
just arrived. When I opened these letters I always
looked first to see from whom they came. This said,
" My dear mother."
" Well, Sarah, Avho do you think wrote this?"
" I 'spects it's William, ma'am. Him's wid de sol-
diers in Virginny."
154 FIKST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
" But have you no other sons ? "
''You 'member, ma'am, I bin telling you de oder
day de rebels catch my biggest boy an' hang him for
a spy. An' Martin, the next boy, been sell off by de
secesh, an' de Lord knows where him is ef him living."
" This letter is from Martin, Sarah."
The old woman dropped her head upon her knees,
and began to rock forward and back, exclaiming, —
" T'ank ye, good Massa ! T'ank ye, good Massa !
blessed Jesus ! You is berry good, berry good !
1 t'ank ye, good Massa ! I t'ank ye ! "
At first I was too much touched to read the letter.
Then I said, —
'' Sarah, will you hear now what he says ? "
'' Oh ! I is satisfied, ma'am. Martin is alive. But
read de letter, please, missis."
It was the same story, daily and hourly repeated.
As soon as our troops took possession of Charleston
the slave boy, now a free man, turned with his whole
heart and soul to his wife and child and his mother.
One of "- Massa's niggers " came along and told him
where they were.
These people had a marvellous way of tracing out
the missing members of their families, and inflexible
perseverance in hunting them up.
" Where is Martin's wife ? " I asked.
'' Don't you know, ma'am ? She is Jane Ferguson."
" Why, Sarah ! Jane has taken another husband ! "
She looked earnestly at me.
" Never mind, ma'am. Jane b'longs to Martin, an'
WAITING LETTEES 155
she'll go back to him. Martin been a sickly boy, an'
de secesh treat him too bad, an' we never 'specs him
to lib t'rough all."
Just then Jane came in.
" Bless de Lord, gal ! " said Sarah. " Martin is
alive an' coming back to we."
" What will you do now, Jane ? " I asked. " You
have got another husband."
She drew herself up, and said deliberately, —
" Martin Barnwell is my husband, ma'am. I am
got no husband but he. Wen de secesh sell him off
we nebber 'spect to see each odder more. He said,
' Jane take good care of our boy, an' w'en we git to
hebben us will lib togedder to nebber part no more.'
You see, ma'am, w'en I come here I had no one to
'' That's so," chimed in the mother. "I tell you,
missis, it been a hard light for we."
'' So Ferguson come," continued Jane, " an' axed
me to be his wife. I told him I never ''spects Mar-
tin could come back, but if he did he would be my
husband above all others. An' Ferguson said, ' That's
right, Jane ; ' so he cannot say nothing, ma'am.''
"But supposing he does say something, and is not
willing to give you up, Jane ? "
" Martin is my husband, ma'am, an' the father of
my child ; and Ferguson is a man. He will not com-
plain. And we had an understanding, too, about it.
And now, please, ma'am, to write a letter for me to
Ferguson, — he was with the Thirty Fourth Regi-
ment. I want to treat the poor boy well."
156 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
I wrote the letter word for word as she dictated.
It was clear and tender, but decided. Ferguson was
not quite so ready to give her up as she expected.
He wrote, —
" Martin has not seen you for a long time. He
cannot think of you as I do. O Jane ! do not go to
Charleston. Come to Jacksonville. I will get a
house and we will live here. Never mind what the
people say. Come to me, Jane."
I read the letter to her. It was evidently written
by the chaplain, who sympathized with his client.
'^ Will you please, ma'am, write a letter yourself
for me ? Tell him, I say I'm sorry he finds it so hard
to do his duty. But as he does, I shall do mine, an'
I shall always pray de Lord to bless him."
'' Shall I sign your name, Jane ? "
" No, ma'am. I shall never write to him no more.
But tell him I wish him well."
Soon after this Martin came and claimed his wife
and child, who gladly clung to him.
A woman brought her baby boy for me to see, — a
fine child. I asked what she had named him. She
said the grandmother had called him James for the
father. So I suggested she should add Freeman to
it. The father, who was in the Thirty Fourth Regi-
ment, was very proud of his name, and he wrote, —
'' Take good care of our boy, for he is born free, —
free as the birds, free as the wind, and free as the
sun, and his name is Freeman. That just suits me.
Thank God ! He shall always be a free man."
THE MARKIAGE CEREMONY 157
THE MARRIAGE CEREMONY
An order was issued, early in the new year, that
all persons living together as husband and wife
should have the marriage ceremony performed, and
get a certificate.
In the days of slavery the marriage relation
amongst the negroes was rarely held too sacred to be
broken by the wishes of the masters or mistresses.
Indeed, it was not easy to find any rights of the
negroes that the whites were bound to respect. All
the people in our district had lived together accord-
ing to the old slave code, as husbands and wives.
Amongst the first persons who came forward to be
married were Smart and Mary Washington, who had
lived together over forty years. They were very
happy when they walked away together side by side,
for the first time endowed with the honorable title of
husband and wife. Smart chuckled well when we
congratulated him, saying, —
" Him's my wife for sartin, now. Ef the ole hen
run away, I shall cotch him sure."
We thought there was no danger of good Aunt
Mary's running away after so many years of faithful
158 FIKST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
Others came forward to have the ceremony per^
formed, and get the certificate, for which they had
profound respect. At one time a father and mother,
and a daughter and her lover, were married by the
same minister. It was touching to see the eager,
expectant look on the faces of the old couples.
They were aiming for something higher and better,
of which they had as yet but a dawning conception,
— only a glimmer of light.
One evening four couples came to the schoolhouse
to meet '' the parson " who was to perform the mar-
riage ceremony for them. They came straight from
the field, in their working-clothes ; the women, as
was their custom, walking behind the men. When
told to join their right hands, they were greatly puz-
zled, although we had instructed them beforehand.
One gave the right, and the other the left hand.
When they left the schoolhouse the women all took
their places by the side of the men, showing that they
felt they were equal in the eyes of the law.
Some months after this we were passing the " negro
quarters," and one of these men brought out a very
young and plump baby for us to see, saying they had
had " a heap of children, but it seemed as if none
could live until they got married, and got their cer-
tificate. But dis gal is boun' to live," he said.
She did live, and became an intelligent and highly
Within a few years some children of this first wed-
ding party were married in this same schoolhouse,
but under very different circumstances. They had
THE MARRIAGE CEREMONY 159
made ample arrangements ; being " fashionably "
dressed, and having issued invitations for a large re-
ception of their colored friends.
A man and woman went to Chaplain Woodworth,
in Beaufort, and were married. The man paid his
dollar and got his certificate, and they left well pleased.
But in a day or two he returned and wanted the
chaplain to take back his certificate, and give him
back his dollar, " 'cause he didn't like that woman
nohow." He was greatly crestfallen when told he
could not back out now, but must stick to his
Chaplain Woodworth also married Mingo and
Rachel. In a little while Mingo came back, saying, —
" Now, parson, I want either a paper to make him
come and lib wid me, or to have her pit in jail, or I
wants a pass to marry another wife."
The chaplain asked which he would rather have.
"Well, you might as well give me the pass, I
reckon," was his answer.
He was told he must go to the Freedman's Bureau
to get his affairs settled.
In a few days he came again.
" Look here, parson," he said, " that gal's not only
tuck herself off, but she tuck all my property too."
He was asked how much property he had.
" Why, I had two head o' duck " (counting them off
on his fingers), " t'ree head o' chicken, an' a hominy
pot; an' now I ain't got nothin'."
Mr. Woodworth told him again he must go to the
Freedman's Bureau and see what they could do for
160 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTKABANDS
him. We never knew whether he got back his prop-
erty or not, but his wife never returned.
When the colored regiments were " mustered out,"
and the soldiers returned home, the girls immediately
made their preparations to be married. So they came
to Miss Fannie and Miss Lizzie for advice and help.
They all had the merriest time hunting out bits of
lace and ribbons and artificial flowers and fitting
them to the expectant brides.
It was now especially desirable to have the mar-
riage relations established, and some fixed laws that
should hold both parties.
In old times families of slaves had been broken up
by unfortunate circumstances or by the will of the
owners. Husbands and wives thus separated had
been advised, and in some instances forced, to form
new relations. Now that all things had become un-
settled again, these people returned to their old part-
ners. This was often a great disappointment, as we
have seen, to those newly allied, and resulted in a
general upsetting of affairs.
Many touching appeals were made to us to settle
the difficulties arising from these changes. We were
often sorely perplexed. All our preconceived ideas
of propriety and the fitness of things were set at
naught. Sometimes two men claimed the same
woman, whilst she coquetted not a little, evidently
disposed to take the one that bid the highest. But
this rarely if ever happened where there were chil-
One day Uncle Kit came to me greatly troubled,
THE MARRIAGE CEREMONY 161
His wife Tina's first husband, who had been sold
away from her "in the old secesh times," had come
back and claimed her. "An' I set my eyes by her,"
said the poor fellow.
Tina had been brought up on another plantation to
which husband number one had now returned. But
Kit had belonged to the Smith estate. So the wife
went from one place to the other, spending a few
weeks alternately with each husband. She had no
children, so had nothing to bind her more to one than
Kit came to ask me to write a letter to Tina and
beg her to come back and stay with him. " Fur him
want to come here to lib, but him shame," said poor
Kit. He was ready to forgive all her waywardness,
"fur nobody can tell, ma'am, what I gone through
with fur that woman. I married her for love, an' I
lub her now more an' better than I lub myself."
We thought such devotion should be rewarded. I
expostulated with Tina over her way of living, and
finally threatened to ignore her altogether. She
seemed surprised, but replied, " I had Sam first, but
poor brother Kit is all alone."
Finally she decided to drop Sam and cling to Kit,
" fur he, poor fellow, ain't got nobody but me," she
They lived happily together for many years. Then
Tina died, and Kit refused to allow any person to
live in the house with him, telling me he never liked
confusion. And folks would talk, and " I don't want
Tina to think I would bring shame upon she," he said.
162 FIRST DAYS WITH THE COKTRABANDS
Sophie, a brown woman, was our second girl for a
time. She had a house about a mile away where she
lived with her husband and step-daughter, and she
always went home at night and returned in the morn-
One stormy night I did not think it fitting for her
to go home. So I gave her some blankets and told
her to lie on the bit of carpet before my sitting-room
fire. At bedtime I found her sound asleep, sitting
on the floor with her head lying back resting on a
low wooden box. One hand was under her head and
the other hung down by her side. Altogether it
seemed to me a most uncomfortable position, and yet
she slept as calmly as a baby. I tried to rouse her,
but found she liked her present position best. The
next morning I overheard her praising her resting-
place last night. '' It was so still an' easy like"
Her husband came ''to make me sensible," how
glad he was that I did not let Sophie come out " in
such a powerful rain."
" Me an' my gal Betsey can git along. But her
has just come from her mother."
I expressed surprise at this, not knowing the first
wife was living. He said, " Oh yes, Betsey's mother
is living ; " that he was a carpenter and all the
white folks ''expected" (respected) him and asked
his master to let him work for them. It appeared
they couldn't do without him. His wife belonged
to one man and he belonged to another.
He was sent away for a long time, and his wife
thought he was sold, so she took another husband.
THE MARRIAGE CEREMONY 163
When he was told this, he said '' It's the same as if a
dagger was stuck through me. I would never receive
[deceive] her, an' I thought she wouldn't receive me.
She would leave the other man and come back to
me, but I consider she had done that which is un-
lawful, an' I didn't want the church to be defiled
I asked if he was anxious for freedom. "Not
'zactly ma'am. Ef a man's shoes pinch him he'll
pull 'em off. But my shoes didn't pinch me. I had
a good, kind master who was a Christian man."
" Auntie Charlotte's " husband was first sold away,
and then went into the army. So she took a second
husband. When the regiment was disbanded num-
ber one returned and claimed his wife. She had two
boys belonging to him, and a girl baby belonging to
number two. The poor woman was in a sore strait.
Both men claimed their offspring. She knew what-
ever way she turned she must give up part of her
We sometimes hear that the slave mothers lacked
natural affection. On the contrary, I have thought
the maternal feeling was intensified in them. Chil-
dren were all they had in the world that they could
ever call their own. Whether with them or sepa-
arated, they could say, ''My child; him is mine."
I knew an old slave woman in central Georgia,
before the war. She had been sold from her Vir-
ginia home thirty or forty years previous, and she
had never heard a word from there since.
As soon as she heard I had travelled through Vir-
164 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
ginia, she came to me to know if I had ever seen her
'' little gal." With tears streaming down her face,
she told me what a '' store she set by that little
child." And she begged me to look out for her
when I went back. She was sure I should know
her, she '' was such a pretty little gal."
It was useless to tell her the girl was now a
woman, and doubtless had children of her own. She
always had been and always would be her "baby."
When the time came for me to return North, the
old woman brought me two hard-boiled eggs and
three sweet potatoes, roasted in the ashes, and a
handful of parched ground-nuts, all tied in a bit of
handkerchief. She evidently intended these as a
bribe, as she begged me again and again to " look
out for her little gal."
There was another slave woman at the same place,
who was young and strong — a " prime hand." She
always kept by herself, and was the saddest person I
ever saw. She too had been sold to a " trader " to
pay ''a gambling debt." Then she was brought
from Virginia and sold again. She had also left a
little child behind her. " And I cannot sleep nights,"
she said. ''Every time I shut my eyes I hear my
baby cry, ' Take me wid you, mammy ; take me wid
you ! ' I put my fingers in my ears, but all the time
I hear him just the same, crying, ' Take me wid you,
mammy ; take me wid you ! ' "
An old colored man lived on the next plantation,
who had been a negro-driver in old times, and was
always a leader and director amongst his people.
THE MARBIAGE CEREMONY 165
His wife was very ill, so she sent to beg me to come
and see her. I found a fine-looking negress, one of
her neighbors, with her.
''Missis," said the sick woman, " I sends fur you
'cause I want you to stan' witness fur me. I ain't
got long for stay here, you see. I is goin' shortly,
an' I can't lef poor Billy here all alone. He can't
fend fur hisself nohow, an' he can't live alone. So
I axes sister Hagar to come here and tuck my place,
an' min' Billy, an' the house, an' the dumb creeturs
fur me. I gives Billy to she. Ef you tell 'em they
will know it's all right. An' do please, missis, put
this down in handwriting, so they shall not be toxi-
cated about, an' contemptuous by the people, when
I is gone. Now, missis, will you tuck my hand
once more, fur I is going?"
Billy and Hagar stood by the bedside, respect-
fully listening to this long speech. Now and then
they would ejaculate, '' That's so." " You is right,
I am confident the sick woman considered this a
marriage ceremony honorable and legitimate. The
same night she died, " such a pretty death," they
said, at rest and at peace with the world.
Poor Hagar was not a widow in fact, although
her husband had deserted her and gone back to the
mainland seven years before, and she had never seen
The laws of South Carolina do not permit a di-
vorce, so she was not legally free. I had supposed that
seven-years' separation would be equal to a divorce.
166 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
The church people thought differently and refused
to sanction the marriage of this old couple, and the
minister refused to perform the ceremony.
Tliey appealed to me again and again to help them
out of this trouble. An envoy was sent " to the
main " to confer with husband number first, who
lived there with another wife, and had several chil-
" Why, I gives my hearty consent that Billy have
Hagar, an' I will put my mark on hand writ for she
to marry agin, ef you want. Tell Billy I has an-
other wife an' a big gang o' chillen, an' he is wel-
come to Hagar."
So a bill of renunciation was drawn up, to which
he affixed his mark. But all was of no avail.
Then the family begged me to see the colored
minister and intercede for them. So I appointed an
interview. A colored " elder " came with the divine.
The parson was courteous and conciliatory, but his
companion was decidedly antagonistical. He mo-
nopolized the conversation, evidently afraid his
superior would be won over. One of his first ques-
tions was, ''Do you ever read your Bible ? If you do,
tell me if you ever found anything in it to fit such
a case as this." And ''Does it not say 'Wives sub-
mit yourselves to your husbands ' ? "
I soon decided it was useless to talk with such
man, and closed the interview.
Billy and Hagar were never married. They lived
together, and Hagar took good care of the old man,
as she promised to do. They were cut off from the
church, which was a great grief to the old man.
THE MARRIAGE CEREMOKY 167
" Somehow I can't hold up my head as I could
once, fur I has been a powerful leader in my time,"
he said dejectedly.
The old man's wife died early in the year. In
November, 1865, the provisional government of South
Carolina decided " that the relation of husband and
wife was fully established and recognized. The
evidence of its existence was declared to be cohabi-
tation and reputation, or acknowledgment by the
respective parties. Those who now live as such
are held to be in legal marriage. All children
heretofore born are held to be legitimate."
'' Hereafter this which the law regards as a civil
contract is required to be duly solemnized, either by
a minister of the gospel, the district judge, a magis-
trate, or any other judicial officer."
In vain did we quote this law to the colored elders.
Their only reply was, '' Do you ever read your Bible ? "
168 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
EVACUATION OF SAVANNAH. — OUR VISIT THERE
Dec. 24, 1864, General Sherman sent the follow-
ing despatch to President Lincoln : - —
** I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the city of Savannah,
with one hundred and fifty heavy guns and plenty of ammunition,
and also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton.^*
The news of the possession of this place by our
troops was received by the freed people with many
manifestations of delight. The former owner of Old
Fort owned also a rice plantation on Savannah River,
and all the people in our immediate neighborhood
had relatives still there. A few of the young people
had slipped away and reached their friends at Old
Fort, but the majority were left behind.
Early in February we went to Savannah with
General and Mrs. Saxton, and members of the gen-
eral's staff, and other officers. How it had become
known that we were to make this trip I cannot tell,
but we found a crowd of our own colored people on
the boat when we went aboard. To our exclamations
of surprise they said with glee, —
" Oh, we're goin' too, fur us has frien's there."
OUK YISIT TO SAVANNAH 169
We found the city crowded with contrabands who
were in a most pitiable condition. Nearly all the
negroes who had lived there before the war had gone
away. A large number went on with the army ;
those left were the stragglers who had come in from
the " sand hills " and low lands. The people from
the plantations too had rushed into the city as soon
as they knew the Union troops were in possession.
A crowd of poor whites had also congregated there.
All were idle and destitute. The whites regarded
the negroes as still a servile race, who must always
be inferior by virtue of their black skins. The
negroes felt that emancipation had lifted them ofit of
old conditions into new relations with their fellow
beings. They were no longer chattels, but independ-
ent creatures with rights and privileges like their
The bill for the establishment of a Freedman's
Bureau in connection with the War Department passed
Congress just at the close of the session of 1864.
Early in 1865 Congress passed an act establishing
a Bureau of Freedmen, Refugees, and Abandoned
Lands. This was to be independent of the military.
In the spring, Major-General O. O. Howard was
appointed head of this bureau.
Order had been restored in the city at the time of
our visit, but it required much deliberation and wise
planning to bring about systematized and concerted
action between the military and bureau officers. The
business of the department had been transacted by
the military and disbursing officers,
170 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
The contrabands were dissatisfied because the
whites were rationed and protected, while they were
destitute and neglected. In some quarters they were
becoming clamorous for help.
General Saxton, who was still military governor of
these States, was sorely tried by what he saw and
heard. He resolutely set to work to improve these
conditions. The officers of his staff were with him
in sentiment, and aided him with zeal and alacrity.
Good men and women, armed with Bibles and spell-
ing-books, also came and began a work of unparalleled
usefulness amongst the contrabands.
Tte freedmen had got the impression that the
abandoned lands of their old owners were to be
divided amongst them. This impression arose from
the talk they had heard around them by the white
and colored soldiers.
It was absolutely necessary that the city should be
relieved of this irresponsible crowd. As far as it was
possible the " freed people " were sent to the old
plantations and instructed and encouraged to make
contracts with the owners and lessees of the lands.
A gang of these people went back with us to join
their friends in our district. We were as much puz-
zled to place these wanderers as the officers had been.
May 15, General Gillmore, who was in command
of the department, issued a proclamation defining the
policy and wishes of the general government towards
the people of these States. He said, —
*'Itis deemed sufficient to announce that the people of the
black race are free citizens of the United States; that it is th^
SURRENDER OF CHARLESTON 171
fixed intention of a wise and beneficent government to protect
them in the enjoyment of their freedom and the fruits of their
industry.'* . . . But *' neither idleness nor vagrancy will be tol-
erated, and the government will not extend pecuniary aid to any
persons, whether white or black, who are unwilling to help them-
It is not surprising that some of the freedmen
supposed that liberty and emancipation from labor
were synonymous ; but as soon as they knew what
was expected of them, they were ready to make con-
tracts with the superintendents on the plantations.
Surrender of Charleston,
Events now crowded upon us in quick succession.
Jan. 13, 1865, General Howard's troops made ad-
vance from Beaufort to Pocotaligo bridge, which was
forty-nine miles from Savannah and fifty-five miles
The booming of the cannon during the engagement
could be heard in Beaufort. All the citizens of the
town were detailed for guard duty.
The freed people on our plantation were wild with
excitement. Half of their relatives were at Otaheite
plantation, which formerly belonged to their master,
John Smith. This was near the ferry which crossed
to the mainland. These people were eager to follow
after the army " to see the fun, and say how d'ye to
their friends." But military orders were strict, and
it was impossible to cross the lines.
The superintendent had already made new con-
172 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
tracts with the people, and it was time to make prep-
arations for field-work.
Feb. 18 Charleston was surrendered and our troops
When this news reached us the people in Beaufort
had a great mass-meeting. An immense crowd of
freed people gathered there and made a real jubilee
of the occasion.
''April 14, 1865. The evacuation of Fort Sum-
ter on the same day four years previous was cele-
brated by raising the same flag on the fort, by Major
I quote from the Rebellion Record.
Everybody around us was making preparations to
be present on this great occasion. There was no ade-
quate means of transportation for the crowd ready to
go. We were on an island, and dependent upon boats
which were not to be had. Many of the colored peo-
ple started off on flats and in dugouts, trusting to
have the good fortune to meet some larger crafts on
the Avay, and be taken aboard. It was impossible to
secure accommodations in the newly captured city.
Our " friends at court " could only promise us shel-
ter and protection. Subsistence was a question past
Under these adverse circumstances we who were
so near were obliged to forego the pleasure of wit-
nessing this great historical event.
A little later we went with General and Mrs. Sax-
ton and saw the city in its desolation. It was a sad
sight, and my heart ached for the old residents who
ASSASSIKATION OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN 173
had struggled so bravely and suffered so mucli
and had finally lost all. We too had suffered and
had lost those nearest and dearest to us, but our
homes and "sacred hearth-stones" were left.^
Assassination of President Lincoln.
The news that Petersburg and Richmond were
evacuated and that General Lee had surrendered on
April 9, all came together. The colored people
were wild with delight over this. They worked all
day, and sang and shouted all night.
Our mail only came once in eight days. There
were no telegraph lines nearer than Savannah, and
our communication with this city and Charleston was
very irregular. We waited with what patience we
could for the next steamer to Hilton Head. Alas !
this brought direful news of the assassination jof Presi-
dent Lincoln, on April 14. The steamer sailed from
New York early the next morning. Some gentlemen
brought us a New York extra, which they secured
just as the steamer for Charleston was pushing out
from the wharf at New York. Our information was
most meagre. We did not know whether the mur-
derous blow was fatal or not. We only knew it was
possible, so we waited for further news with intense
The poor freed people were filled with consterna-
tion and despair. They crowded around our door
constantly, asking what would be done now. We
could tell them nothing, for we knew no more than
1 See Appendix. - .
174 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
One freed man said, " Praise God, missis ! Praise
God I I couldn't sleep all las' night, I is so worrit
in my mind about Massa Linkum."
The "rice people " always spoke of the President
as " Uncle Sam " and " Papa Linkum," etc. They
gave him credit for all the wonderful things that had
been done since, the world began. And now they
were like orphans without home or protection.
A woman came to me with tears streaming down
her face. She said, '^ I come to beg you'na for a lee-
tle bit o' black to pit aroun' the tail o' my coat [gown]
to mourn for poor Papa Sam."
The freed people in our district were now working
in their fields, hoeing the corn and cotton which they
had planted in March. They were under the care
of a kind and judicious superintendent, and were con-
tented and happy when this great sorrow came.
" How will the war end ? " and " What will our
country do now? " were questions daily asked of us,
for which we had no answer. We could only counsel
them to have patience and faith in God's goodness.
When the final news came we had funeral services
in the schoolhouse, at which there was a great crowd
of freed people. Every one who could get a scrap of
black had put it on as a mourning badge.
A girl had a black band tied around her head.
Another had a piece of black cambric which she made
into a bow and wore as a top-knot.
A man turned his coat and wore it inside out
because it had a " mourning lining," and a woman
begged us for some strips of black cambric, which she
lee's surrender 175
basted around the bottom of her gown and up and
down the front with white cotton. Their appearance
would have been ludicrous had it not been so sad.
Their prayers were heart-broken lamentations.
One man said, —
" We kneel upon de groun', wid our faces in our
ban's an' our ban's in de dust, an' cry to thee for
marcy, O Lord, dis evenin'."
Words would utterly fail to describe the occasion.
We had draped the room with black. They referred
to this in their prayers, as a symbol of the dense cloud
of sorrow which hung over their lives. Whatever
they heard or saw was repeated and woven into their
One of the leaders intoned his prayer, which, in its
perfect rhythmical flow, became a solemn chant. He
called the martyred president by every tender and
endearing tone of which he could think, ending with :
'^Massa Linkum! our 'dored Redeemer an' Saviour
an' Frien' ! Amen ! "
April 9 General Lee surrendered, and the work of
reconstruction may be said to have begun in all the
The news of this surrender and the disbanding of
Lee's army, and the breaking up of the Confederacy,
came with that of the death of President Lincoln.
But the joy of the final victory was swallowed up in
the grief of this last disaster. The poor contrabands
had no heart to rejoice. Some of the young men
176 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
came together for a little singing and shouting, but
the older people looked very grave. They knew that
these changes were full of tremendous import to them,
and they were watchful and anxious.
Nothing in the history of the world has ever
equalled the magnitude and thrilling importance
of the events then transpiring. Here were more
than four millions of human beings just born into
freedom; one day held in the most abject slavery,
the next, " de Lord's free men." Free to come and
to go according to the best lights given them. Every
movement of their white friends was to them full of
significance, and often regarded with distrust. Well
might they sometimes exclaim, when groping from
darkness into light, " Save me from my friend, and I
will look out for my enemy."
Whilst the Union people were asking, *^ Those
negroes! what is to be done with them?" they, in
their ignorance and helplessness, were crying out in
agony, " What will become of us ? " They were lit-
erally saying, " I believe, O Lord ! help thou mine
They were constantly coming to us to ask what
peace meant for them ? Would it be peace indeed ?
or oppression, hostility, and servile subjugation ?
This was what they feared, for they knew the temper
of the baffled rebels as did no others.
" And is this what we fight for? " asked the young
The hatred of some white people for the colored
race amounted almost to frenzy. It was by no means
LEE'S SURRENDER. 177
confined to the old Southerners, but was largely
shared by Northern adventurers, a host of whom had
followed the army.
It took time for the freed people to find out who
were their true friends. But they gradually learned
to discriminate. Their respect, however, for a white
skin was amazing, and sometimes made us ashamed
of our own race.
One of our colored men, who had been deceived,
and grossly cheated, and ill-treated by one who was
known as a missionary, recounting his troubles to
me, exclaimed, —
" I declar', ma'am, he don't desarve to be a white
man. He'll shuck ban's wid his right han', an' fling
a brick-bat at you wid his lef '."
178 FIliST DAYS WITH THE COKTKABANBS
JACK FLOWEH'S STRAW BOAT
Among the first persons who came to us to get
news about the assassination of President Lincoln, was
Jack Flowers. He was a large and finely built black
man, who had made incredible efforts to get out of
" I 'spect it's no use to be here," he said dejectedly,
'' I might as well stayed where I was. It 'pears we
can't be free, nohow. The rebs won't let us alone.
If they can't kill us, they'll kill all our friens', sure."
I had already heard his story, and, remembering
what he had braved and endured, I did not wonder
he now lost heart. His master was a most cruel man,
who lived on the main.
Jack had always been under brutal overseers and
drivers, who followed him with the lash. When the
war broke out the slaves were doubly watched and
guarded, being driven to and from the rice-fields like
For years Jack had been studying upon his condi-
tion as a slave, and wondering how he could secure
his liberty ; so when the Union forces landed at
Hilton Head, he resolved to get to them, or perish
JACK flower's straw BOAT 179
in the attempt. He secretly took leave of his family,
and ran away, first hiding in the rice-swamps during
the day, and creeping along at night, until he reached
the woods. Here he hid in the bushes until dark,
and then crawled down to the banks of the creeks and
marshes to elude the dogs, which were out in hot pur-
suit. At one time he stood in the water up to his chin
all day, the hounds were so near. At another time he
was ''bogged," and sunk so deep in the black mud,
he despaired of ever getting out. Finally, he made
a basket-boat, woven of the reeds cut in the swamps,
and calked with bits of cotton picked up in the fields,
and smeared with the pitch from the pine-trees near
by. In this frail boat he drifted with the tide down
the river, which is but an arm of the sea, until he
passed the Rebel pickets. Then he quietly pad-
dled himself along with some barrel staves he had
picked up in the woods, until he reached the Union
pickets, whom he hailed as friends, and 'begged them
to protect him.
His straw boat was afterward sent to Boston to
Governor Andrew, and by him presented to the
" Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Free Masons."
Jack gave us a long and thrilling account of his
perils and adventures by the way. I copy here his
story, which was sent with the boat, and which was
Jack made several attempts to pass the rebel picket
lines, but failed.
*' So, when I found it was no use to get over that way, I con-
cluded to try another. Uncle lent me his axe and knife, and I cut
180 FIRST DAYS WITH THE COKTKABAKDS
a lot of rushes and a tough oak-tree for splints, and went to work
in the woods and made this basket; it took me two days to weave
it after the stuff was all ready. The pitch I got by cutting into a
tree and catching the gum, which I boiled in a kettle of my sis-
ter's. The old shutter came from Dr. Fuller's house. It w^as three
miles to the water, and I carried the basket alone, on my head, in
the dark night, for fear of the pickets. It was so late in the night
when I got all ready to start in the creek, that I did not get down
to the Coosaw till day clear. So I landed on a little hummock
close by the mouth of the creek, and hid the boat and myself for
another day. But before nine o'clock the next night I put out
and paddled over to Port Royal, too glad to get away. The
Yankee picket wan't asleep, but challenged me before I got
near the shore, and I told him right off that I was a runaway
nigger coming ashore for freedom. The secesh picket heard me,
and after I got up the bank he hailed across, * Yanks, who have
*^ Yankees say, ^ One of your fellows.'
" ^ What you going to do with him ? '
" ' Don't know. What you think best ? '
" * Cut him up for fish-bait. He ain't good for nothing else.' "
One bright morning in May, 1865, an orderly rode
up to our door at the plantation with a military order
from General Saxton, requiring us. Miss Fannie and
myself, to report at headquarters in Beaufort that
afternoon. An ambulance would be sent for us at
three o'clock. Unless something unexpected pre-
vented we should be returned to our home Sunday
afternoon. This was Friday.
With this order was a bright note from the major s
wife, telling us not to be alarmed by a military
summons ; they all knew that nothing less than a
command with authority would bring us to them,
and, indeed, we must know they wanted to see
us very much ; besides, they had something to
So in due time we were packed into an ambulance
and conveyed to town, where we were received at
headquarters by an orderly, and conducted to the gen-
eral. He received us with military formality, asked
us a few questions, then laughingly '' turned us over"
to the colonel and major, who conducted us to the
Those visits to headquarters were golden days in
182 FIRST DAYS WITH THE COKTBABANDS
our busy and anxious lives. Others besides our-
selves found there a haven of rest. No one ever
came officially into the department, or left, without
experiencing the kindness and hospitality of the gen-
eral's household. Who can and will write the story
of those days ? To Miss Fannie and me it was like
another world to see the faces of white friends
We soon learned why we were summoned at this
special time. A little mulatto boy had been sent to
General Saxton by Mrs. Jefferson Davis, and now
the question came up, what was the best thing to do
He was about seven years old, but small for his
age ; was a very light mulatto, with brown curly hair,
thin lips, and a defiant nose. When brought before
us he looked around suspiciously and fearlessly.
When Mrs. Saxton called him he walked calmly up
to her ; but when I held out my hand to him he folded
his arms and stood still, straight as an arrow, with his
head thrown back, without meeting my friendly ad-
vances. It was comical to see the cool indifference of
this tiny scrap of humanity.
" Jimmie, this lady is your friend," said Mrs. Sax-
ton. Thereupon he walked up to me and held out
his hand. " Now go out on the piazza, and wait until
I call you," continued the lady.
Now his whole manner changed. Taking the ma-
jor's little boy by the hand, he went out of the
room laughing and talking, and we soon saw him ra-
cing around with Eddie full of fun and frolic. He
was evidently fond of children, but he distrusted
grown people. Well he might, for he had seen only
troublous times. This was his story, as then told us.
I copy the dates from other records : —
''Jefferson Davis was captured at Irwinsville,
Georgia, May 10, 1865. He had with him his fam-
ily, his Postmaster General Reagan, his Private Sec-
retary Harrison, and others, with a train of five wag-
ons and three ambulances."
From Irwinsville he was brought to Hilton Head,
where he was placed on board a government steamer
to be taken North. For the first time he was now
separated from his family and friends.
News came to Beaufort of these movements, and
the steamer Planter was sent down with despatches.
When she returned, an officer on board brought with
him this small colored boy, sent by Mrs. Davis to
General Saxton. She also sent a note by the boy,
written with pencil on the blank leaf of a book.
I quote from memory. She said: —
" I send this boy to you. General Saxton, and beg
you to take good care of him." His mother was a
free colored woman in Richmond. She died when he
was an infant, leaving him to the care of a friend,
who was cruel and neglectful of him. One day Mrs.
Davis and her children went to the house and found
this woman beating the little fellow, who was then
only two years old. So she took him home with her,
intending to find a good place for him. But he was
so bright and playful, her own children were imwill-
ing to give him up. Then she decided to keep him
184 FIRST DAYS WITH THE COKTRABAKDS
until he was old enough to learn a trade. " That was
five years ago, and he has shared our fortunes and
misfortunes until the present time. But we can do
nothing more for him. I send him to you, General
Saxton, as you were a friend of our earlier and better
times. You will find him affectionate and tractable.
I beg you to be kind to him." This was the gist of
Poor little human waif ! truly a child born with-
out home or country ; torn from all the friends he
had ever known, and brought off by strangers into
the enemy's lines. We cannot wonder he looked
with scorn or distrust upon all around him.
As he was the constant companion and playmate
of Mrs. Davis's children, he considered himself as
one of them, adopting their views and sharing their
prejudices. President Davis was to him the one
great man in the world. Mrs. Davis had given him
the kindly care of a mother, and he had for her the
loving devotion of a child.
His clothing consisted of a threadbare jacket and
pants, much too small for him. He had no covering
for his head, and he was barefooted.
One of the ladies asked him if he had any more
clothing. He held down his head, and said with a
trembling voice, —
''Her couldn't do any better," meaning Mrs. Davis ;
" her hadn't any more to give me, for her hadn't any
clothes for the other children. Bud," meaning Mrs.
Davis's oldest boy, '' wanted me to wear his cap, and
he put it on my head, but her said him wanted it
niore'na me, and I must be a good boy till her send
He was very quick and active, and always alert.
One day he heard some little darkies singing '' We'll
hang Jeff Davis on a sour-apple tree." This was
more than Jinimie could stand. He dashed into
their gang, and waving his new straw hat, of which he
was very proud, shouted, " Three cheers for President
Jefferson Davis." At this the whole crowd was in
commotion. They shouted " A rebel ! a rebel ! " and
began to throw oyster-shells at him, and all wanted
to fight. Jimmie backed up against the house, and
told them to come on ; that " President Davis was
no rebel, but a good gentleman who would whip the
General Saxton was informed of the fight going on
amongst the pickaninnies, so he called James to him
and questioned him about the affair.
The boy bravely told him all that had happened,
and angrily declared that if he were a man he would
kill every one of them.
General Saxton replied it was true General Davis
had been his best friend, and he highly approved of his
fidelity to him. But fighting for him v/as of no avail.
He doubted if fighting ever helped anybody. He
could love and honor President Davis, but it would
be wiser at present to say nothing about him. Mrs.
Davis had sent him here, and they meant to take care
The little fellow faltered out that —
" Her didn't want to send me, sir, and her cry
186 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
when I come away." But after that he never men-
tioned the name of Jefferson Davis, and was very
unwilling to be questioned about him.
He was quite willing to talk to the ladies about
Mrs. Davis and his life in Richmond ; told them of the
death of one of General Davis's little boys who fell
from the piazza which ran along by the kitchen, and
was killed on the brick pavement in the yard. Jim-
mie, who was his constant playfellow, was the first to
get to him, and he sat down on the bricks and lifted
his head on to his lap. And " her found them so when
her come, and her screamed," and the negroes carried
both the children into the house together.
In time the little fellow grew used to his life
amongst the Union soldiers. Good food and good
care made another boy of him. One thing he could
not forget, — the forcible separation of General Davis
from his family. He was overheard talking with a
sergeant one day, who had evidently been question-
''When the officers took hold of the president to
lead him away, Mrs. Davis threw her arms tight about
him. Then another officer came up and took hold of
her, and she screamed and fell down, and all the people
thought she was dead. And I said I would kill that
man, and so I will when I grow to be a man," ex-
claimed the little fellow striking out in fierce anger,
while the tears streamed down his face.
General and Mrs. Saxton took him with them to
Charleston, and while there he became very fond of his
new protectors. But the vicissitudes of army life made
it impossible for them to keep him, so he was sent
to us to be taken North and placed where he could go
to school. This was another great trial for the lad.
Poor little waif ! like a seed borne by the wind far
from its native land; with no natural ties or even a
When Mrs. Saxton told him he was to go to the
plantation she said, " You will be very happy with
the ladies." He tearfully replied, " I'll be more hap-
pier with the general. I likes to wait on them I
He came to us in March, and soon settled down
into regular duties in school, where he seemed very
happy. One day he said, "Is to-day March? well,
to-morrow will be deeper March, won't it ? And
then summer will come, and I shall see the general."
He told me with evident pleasure of the presents of-
fered General Saxton in Charleston. Then he said
thoughtfully, " God is a good man, ain't him ? I
think him and General Saxton two of the goodest
men in the world."
When it was explained to him that God was not a
man, he seemed to reflect upon it for a time ; then
he exclaimed, '' Well, the general is most as good as
him ! " I may say in this connection, the little fellow
came North, and remained with us in our country
home for the summer. While waiting for a home
to be found for him, I sent him to a district school
not far away, established for the children belonging
to the operatives in a small mill close by.
These people were mostly foreigners, and this boy
188 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
was a '-'-nagur^'' a new specimen to most of the chil-
dren. He was active and playful, and I must confess
he had many pranks, learned from the soldiers while
in camp. Besides, in virtue of his light skin and
curly hair, and as he belonged to '^ the gineral," he
had been leader and ruler amongst his little comrades
at the South ; and having played with the children
in President Davis's family, and been a boon com-
panion with them, young as he was, he had no fear
or reserve with white children elsewhere. Indeed, he
seemed to belong more to the white race than the
As we were warned, trouble soon came in school on
his account ; the children all '' ganged " against him,
and he, to defend himself, threw mud and stones and
whatever he could lay his hands on. So one night I
was called upon by one of the mill-hands, who was
very angry. He began by saying, —
" Your nigger boy struck one of my children to-
day. I come to tell you that nigger brat must leave
that school, or I won't answer for the consequences.
I won't stand it, I warn you."
I waited a moment, and then said, '' I am very
sorry. Please sit down and tell me all about it."
Upon this the man took off his hat and made a
bow as he took a seat. He seemed a little ashamed
when he tried to tell his story, and he ended by
'' It wan't much after all, and I shouldn't wonder
if my children provoked him, for they can be provok-
ing, and no mistake."
I promised to go with the boy the next day and see
the teacher. So when the bell rang the next morning
we walked down to the schoolhouse, where I found
about twenty bright-looking children, who were evi-
dently expecting us.
I questioned the teacher, who gave a very mild
report of the affair. Then I talked to the children,
telling them how sorry I was that any trouble had
come ; that this little fellow was a stranger who
was born hundreds of miles from this place, who had
no home, and neither father nor mother, nor sister nor
brother, and no relation in the world that he knew
anything about. I could not help contrasting their
condition with that of this forlorn little stranger;
'' For," said I, " he has no one at the North to stand
up for him but myself, and I must soon leave
The children began to look sympathetic, and be-
fore I stopped speaking, the little girl who had made
the complaint walked across the room and gave
Jimmie a big red apple she had in her hand. From
that time there was no further trouble, and James
became the hero of the school.
In the autumn a place was found for him, but the
same trouble came up about sending him to school.
He could not be admitted because " he was a nig-
He was then sent farther off in the country, with
the same result. There would have been no trouble
in the cities, but the country people were not to ba
190 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
Finally the little boy drifted into Auntie Gwynne's
Home. This noble woman placed him where he was
well-trained in all ways, having the advantage of
school, as well as a good practical education, until he
was old enough to support himself.
DISBANDING THE TROOPS 191
DISBANDING THE TROOPS
April 13, 1865, the Secretary of War, Edward M.
Stanton, issued orders for disbanding part of the
The news of this order did not reach us officially
for some time. Then came a notice that government
transports would be taken away, and everything
belonging to the army be removed. Three large
steamers headed towards Beaufort went by our place.
In time, one crowded with soldiers from the hospi-
tals returned. These were the straws which told
which way the wind blew.
Of course the freed people around us watched every
movement with trembling interest, and wondered
what would come next. It is not strange they grew
faint-hearted. We sympathized most deeply with
them. The officers around us could not tell what
these changes portended. They received their orders
and obeyed. The colored leaders called a mass-meet-
ing at the schoolhouse, to discuss affairs. But it
was a " praise-meeting," without political discussion.
The time had not come for that. The prayers and
speeches of the negroes were indescribably touching.
192 FIKST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
There was not a word of bitterness or animosity.
The gist of the meeting was, —
" O Lord, if it so please thee, do, we pray thee,
tuck care o' we."
Some of their expressions, with such a full measure
of love and good-will towards men, seemed to us
really sublime. They literally said of their old own-
ers, " Father, forgive them, for they know not what
Their supplications were always impressive. One
night we attended a meeting where prayers were to
be offered for a gentleman in our household who was
very ilL The leaders of the church had asked to be
allowed to pray with him. We suggested a praise-
meeting should be held at the negro quarters instead.
Their supplications in his behalf were most earnest
and tender. One of the elders said in his prayer, —
'' Everybody has to tote him own load, an' some
have big loads an' some have little ones, but nobody
can tote for him neighbor. But if the dear Lord so
please to let we tote poor sick massa's load, we'm
bear it all till him clean done git well."
We announced that school would be closed the last
of June for the summer. Some of the women in our
district were in a transport of despair when they
heard this. In vain we told them we only took a
vacation, and would surely come back again. This
was unintelligible, and they found no comfort in
what we said. They could not get beyond the fact
that they were to be deserted and left unprotected.
An old woman appeared before me one morning
DISBANDING THE TKOOPS 193
looking anxious and troubled. As soon as she saw
me she exclaimed, —
'^ Missis, I come for ax you'na to be so please to
larn me one little hymn 'fore you go. I ain't got
long for stay here. I 'spects the Big Massa will call
me home 'fore long, an* w'en I gets up there I ain't
know what to say. I ain't know one t'ing to tell
de Big Massa. Please, missis, larn me somet'ing,
an' w'en I goes, mebbe de angels will help me to
Another old women came to expostulate.
'' You mus'n't go ! " she exclaimed with righteous
indignation. " Massa Sam sen' you to tuck care o'
we, an' you mus' tuck care."
Then to my reply she said, —
'' O ma'am, us tuck you for our missis, an' you
mus' stay wid we till you dead we all. Dear missis,
what'll us do ef you lef ' us here ? "
A lame woman came. She said, —
" I tell you what, ma'am, the secesh ain't coming
back here to let we alone. Dear missis, ef you'na all
go North an' lef we, the rebs will make it mighty
hard for we. I'se born an' bring up here, an' I know
dem. Dey was debils 'fore dem bin gone away, an'
dey ain't going to be better now, sure."
The " tight times " had already come. Provisions
were getting very scarce. Only the old and infirm
received rations from government. The young and
able-bodied men and women, and all who could,
were required to work in the fields and earn subsis-
tence for themselves and families. This was often
194 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
scanty enough. In April and May, when blackberries
and plums were ripe, the little children picked and
sold what they could.
Early one morning I found two little girls on the
piazza with blackberries "for sell." They had also
two eggs " for give you, ina'am." They came the
night before, but, finding we were not at home, went
away. Upon inquiry I found they had no supper
but their berries. They now wanted to sell what
they could, so as to go to the town five miles away
and buy " grub " for the family breakfast. Such
interviews were of daily occurrence.
" I tell you what, ma'am," said old Aunt Mila, who
was nearly one hundred years old, " dese am sich
tight times. Every one for himself, an' God for we
These were not easy times for ourselves. June
16 Miss Fannie wrote, " We have intensely hot
weather. The mercury goes up to ninety-five degrees
daily. It has been sixteen days since we have had a
letter or paper or any message from the North. The
mail arrived yesterday, and we have had a time of
rejoicing. We are indeed making history fast.^^
So many people came to us for advice and help,
that the routine of our daily lives was entirely dis-
organized. Good " Aunt Jane's " sympathies for
others made her forgetful of our own needs. In
spite of remonstrances, her breakfast was a little later
every day. The same with other meals, until we
decided that some day we should skip all together,
and call the last meal at night our next day's break-
EETURK OF ABANDONED LANDS 195
fast. We could not get vexed, for the poor old
woman was so contrite when her attention was called
to our condition.
School continued with a degree of regularity.
The children came early, and the men and women
hurried from their field-work at noon, all more and
more eager "• for larn."
To know how to educate and elevate this peculiar
race was a serious problem for us to solve.
Our Northern friends were unwearied in their ef-
forts to help us. They packed boxes and barrels with
second-hand clothing and sewing materials, and books
and supplies for the school, and sent them along as
fast as transportation could be secured, but still there
was need for more.
In August, in my home at the North, I received a
letter from a young officer in Beaufort : —
" The Freedmen's Bureau down here did not give
satisfaction to Colonel Fullerton, General Howard's
adjutant-general, nor to Mr. Alvord, who is also an
agent from General Howard. They say not nearly
so much has been accomplished here as in other
Such reports made us very anxious for the welfare
of our poor contrabands.
Return of Abandoned Lands,
Oct. 9, 1865, an order was issued from the War
Department directing Major-General Howard, com-
mander of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and
Abandoned Lands, to go to South Carolina, Geor-
196 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTKABAKDS
gia, and Florida, to " effect a satisfactory arrange-
ment by which the lands might be returned to the
former owners. Certain tracts of land in these States
situated on the coast, at the time for the most part
vacant, were set apart by Major-General W. T. Sher-
man's Special Field Order, No. 15, for the benefit of
refugees and freedmen that had been congregated by
the operations of war, or had been left to take care
of themselves by former owners."
By this action of the national authority, " an ex-
pectation was created that they would be able to
retain possession of said lands." The reason given for
"• interfering with the occupants established by gov-
ernment upon lands so long in its possession," was
" that a large number of the former owners are earn-
estly soliciting the restoration of the same, and prom-
ising to absorb the land and care for the freedmen."
It is not my wish now to sit in judgment upon the
acts of those early days. I only record the facts and
their effects upon the freed people. Most of the land
on the sea-islands had been divided up and sold to
them. The news of this order, and the expected
visit of General Howard, were terrible blows to
them. They regarded the return of the former own-
ers as an inauguration of the old slavery times, with
the worst consequences.
On Edisto, one of the largest and most fertile
of the sea-islands, the negroes were intelligent, in-
dustrious, and thrifty. When the commissioners ar-
rived with the " secesh owners," the freed people
had ah'eady begun to repair their houses, and to clean
up the ground, ready to plant.
RETURN OF ABANDONED LANDS 19T
General Howard reported : " It is exceedingly diffi-
cult to reconcile conflicting interests."
We need not be surprised that for a time there was
a degree of antagonism between the whites and
blacks; but the negroes were reported to ^'have
shown good sense and dignity, and in time the old
habit of submission prevailed."
The following report of a Georgian shows the con-
dition of the people everywhere in this crisis : —
" The blacks eat, sleep, move, live, only by the tolerance of the
whites, who hate them. The blacks own absolutely nothing but
their bodies ; their former masters own everything, and will sell
them nothing. If a black man draws even a bucket of water from
a well, he must first get the permission of a white man, his enemy.
If he sleeps in a house over night, it is only by the leave of a white
man. If he buys a loaf of bread, he must buy of a white man.
If he asks for work to earn his living, he must ask it of a white
man, and the whites are determined to give him no work except on
such terms as will make him a serf, and impair his liberty. In
different parts of the South, the planters are already combining for
this purpose; they engage themselves to each other not to sell or
lease land to a black man on any terms ; not to employ them except
by the year, and on certain conditions, and not to suffer ihem to live
on their places unless they submit to the planter's conditions."
Strange as this language may sound at the present
time, it is a true index of the spirit of '66. Well
might our freed people hang their heads and talk of
" uncommon tight times," with one hope alone, that
'' God is fur we all."
The freedmen and their friends had not recovered
from their dismay at the order from the War Depart-
ment that the lands should be returned, when the fol-
lowing circular No. 1 was issued : —
198 FIKST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
Charleston, S.C, Jan. 20, 1866.
In obedience to instructions from the commissioner, I hereby
transfer the control of the affairs of the Bureau of Refugees, Freed-
men, and Abandoned Lands to Brig. -Gen. R. K. Scott, U. S. Vols.,
who is appointed assistant commissioner for South Carolina.
(Signed.) R.* Saxton.
Capt, A. Q. M. Bvt. Col. U, S. A.
This order was a keen disappointment to all of us
who knew so well what General Saxton had done to
aid the cause of the freedmen. It was he who first
encouraged them to buy lands. He helped to get
the order passed to have parts of the old abandoned
plantations cut up into ten-acre lots and sold to the
negroes. He had been urgent that a law should be
passed that these lands should not be sold by, or
alienated from, the original purchasers, who must
be negroes and heads of families, until six years
from the enactment of this law. This was to save
them from sharpers and carpet-baggers at home and
abroad. He had advised the people to build small
houses, and get out of the old negro quarters as soon
as possible, knowing they would never be entirely
free until they had abiding-places they could surely
call their own. He was watchful to see that only
good superintendents should be over them, and was
severe upon any acts of unfairness or dishonesty.
All this helped to get for Beaufort the name of " The
When the order came that the lands should be
restored. General Saxton decided that goveraiment
had failed in its promises to him. Hence his re-
HELP FOR THE SOUTH 199
No one wished to bear the news of this reversal of
opinion to the freed people. Certainly it was a
difficult task for General Howard. Perhaps no one
could have done this with more tact than he. The
people were won by his kind consideration of their
views and position. He gained their confidence,
which was more than half the conquest.
Help for the South.
Nov. 26, 1865, Governor Andrew of Boston wrote
the following letter to his friend and pastor, Rev.
James Freeman Clarke : —
*^ I desire to echo your suggestion made to-day after sermon,
and I hope for an efficient movement in behalf of the freedmen.
** Although the Government of the United States ought to serve
out rations, and protect the poor people from the suffering from
hunger impending this winter, there will still be large room left for
private charity. Labor disorganized, fields wasted, crops unmade,
planters impoverished and demoralized, the freedmen uncertain
and half protected, they and their old masters mutually doubt-
ful of each other, the poor whites hostile in great measure, and
all the victims more of their ignorance and of antecedent circum-
stances than of present bad intentions, — this is the picture a
large part of the South now exhibits. We of the North are in
comfort and prosperity. We must intervene for the immediate
preservation of the colored people of the South, powerless, for the
moment, to save themselves, and by wise and prudent gener-
osity help to float them over until a new crop can be made.
Acting in connection with the Freedmen's Bureau, and with sen-
sible and practical agents, a million of dollars raised by the North
before Christmas, while in reality and comparatively a small sum,
would do unspeakable good.'*
This is indeed '' a picture " of the condition in
which we found our district when we returned to it
200 FIKST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
in October of the same year. This letter also shows
tlie kindly spirit prevading the North ; an apprecia-
tion of the devastation and desolation of the whole
South, and a readiness to lend a helping hand to
build up on a better foundation the social structure
so recently pulled down.
A little later Rev. Oliver C. Everett wrote us from
Boston : —
" From what I can learn, it seems to me that the freedmen will
have a liberal share of the heart and strength, of the sympathy and
means, of the North. The churches in all the various denomina-
tions are awakening to this matter. Soon we shall see the inter-
est which was felt for the Sanitary Commission turned into this
new channel. The people are ready and willing; they have got
their hands in the work, and they understand the working of the
machinery whereby great good may be accomplished."
The same date, Dec. 13, 1865, another friend
wrote : —
*' To-morrow morning I am going over to New York as a dele-
gate to a meeting to consider whether the freedmen's societies and
refugees' aid societies shall be united, so that the charity of the
North to the South may go through one channel, and be distrib-
uted without regard to race or color. The plan has been proposed
as one which will tend to allay jealousy against the blacks, and to
secure greater respect for teachers of the freedmen. The principle
of ignoring race or color is good, but there may be practical diffi-
culties inuniting the different societies.^^
The delight of the freed people in our district
when they welcomed us back to our home and school
in the autumn would have compensated us for all
the anxieties and inconveniences we had experienced
on the way.
As soon as peace was declared, many of the old
HELP FOR THE SOUTH 201
refugees were eager to get back to their former homes
on the old plantations. We had tried to dissuade
them from acting hastily, but we found several fami-
lies had gone back to the main in our absence. They
had a great longing to be with 'Hhe old folks at
When school began we were much surprised to
find the children had forgotten so little of what they
had learned before. The first day of school they
opened their books at the place they left off, as if only
a few hours instead of months had intervened since
they were last in their classes. The children only
were at liberty now, and could attend regularly ; but
every man and woman, far and near, came to get
their names enrolled, — '' to get themselves ticketed,"
they called it.
About that time a young officer came from Charles-
ton, bringing a gloomy report of affairs around there.
Things looked threatening. If the military was en-
tirely removed, as announced, bloodshed and insur-
rection were predicted before New Year's. In the
country great bitterness arose between the whites
and blacks. This was the season when they were
making new labor contracts for the coming year.
The whites ordered and threatened. The blacks had
armed themselves, and were drilling. It was resist-
ance against force.
I mention these things to show the spirit of the
President Johnson's message did not help us out
of our confusion in regard to reconstruction and the
202 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
prospects of the freed people, who were our especial
care. Then came tlie proclamation that all the con-
fiscated lands, not already sold, should be returned
to the original owners. This was a discouraging set-
back to the freed people, who had occupied and culti-
vated these lands during the war, and were noAV living
in their old quarters ; and they had nowhere else to
go. It was particularly hard for the people living
on the islands around Charleston. There was not a
foot of land they could secure and call their own, and
no place where they were at liberty to remain, except-
ing by the will of their old masters. The richest and
finest plantations in the world were on these islands.
The slaves were a "prime lot," of whom their owners
were justly proud. These were a set of fine, manly,
intelligent fellows who had carried on the plantations,
raising and selling marvellous crops for their old
owners in former times.
Before the holidays. Colonel Ketchum, of General
Howard's staff, went with some of the former owners
to Edisto Island to arrange about their lands, prelimi-
nary to finally returning them. He was much im-
pressed by the dignity and manliness of the negroes
in this first interview. They were firm in refusing
to give up their old homes unless other lands were
given them. They held this as their right, promised
by government. They were also firm in refusing to
work for their old masters unless guaranteed recog-
nition and protection.
News came at this time that the military officers
were to have charge of all affairs connected with the
HELP FOK THE SOUTH 203
Freedman's Bureau. This was another disappoint-
ment to all persons interested in the negroes. This
meant the removal of their friends, and their places
occupied by indifferent and sometimes hostile offi-
cials. This was the period when their good and tried
friend, General Saxton, was replaced.
204 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
New Year's Day, 1866, we were present at the
emancipation jubilee on the race-course in Charleston.
It was estimated there were over ten thousand col-
ored people around the speaker's stand. Most of
these were comfortably dressed, and all were digni-
fied, earnest, and intelligent-looking. Many of the
soldiers on duty were negroes, waiting to be mustered
out. The streets of the city were filled with happy
freed people. According to their spiritual, they had
'' fought for liberty," and this was their " New Jeru-
salem," of which they so often sang. Even the poor-
est, and those most scantily clothed, looked as if they
already '' walked that golden street," and felt '' that
starry crown " upon their uncovered heads. It was
indeed a day of great rejoicing, and one long to be
remembered. These people were living their " New
Jerusalem," which had been their Marseillaise.
All the best friends of the freed people were on the
stand as their guests. The managers and marshals,
and all officials, were black men. General Saxton,
'' Father French," and some colored preachers made
short addresses, appealing to their common-sense and
EMANCIPATION JUBILEE 205
best intelligence. Such a mass of eager, earnest, up-
turned faces was truly inspiring. The struggles and
wrongs of all the past years seemed swallowed up in
General Saxton spoke to them earnestly of the im-
portance of becoming honest, industrious, and sober.
If they wanted land, they must work for it ; fill their
pockets with greenbacks, and buy land ; fling away
the idea they were to be taken care of ; take their
places amongst men and earn their own living ; to
all of which they eagerly assented.
Colonel Ketchum advised them to emulate their
neighbors on Edisto Island. When he went to them
with their old owners to take back their lands, they
met them manfully and with remarkable dignity.
They wer^ ready to listen to reason ; if they pledged
their word, they would stand by it.
Colonel Trowbridge of the Thirty Third U. S. C. T.
took this occasion to bid all his soldiers farewell,
as they were so soon to be mustered out. These im-
pressible people were much affected by the kind
words of their old commander. When he ceased
speaking, this immense crowd were hushed and silent
for a few moments, and then some one began to sing
with powerful voice, —
''Blow ye the trumpet, blow!
The gladly solemn sound."
Every one in that vast assemblage joined in the
singing, and when they came to the chorus, —
'' The year of jubilee has come,
Return, ye ransomed sinners, home,"
206 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
th& words rolled out with tremendous force and with
The soldiers in camp always caught with effusion
every poem sent them that had a ring to it, and set
it to music. Sometimes they improvised or originated
the air, but more frequently they adapted the words
to some popular tune. In this way their repertoire
When the exercises were over and the soldiers
were about to disperse, they struck* up and sang, con
amore^ Oliver Wendell Holmes's poem, which was
published in the Boston Transcript Aug. 12, 1862.
This had been widely circulated, and became very
A SONG OF THE SIX HUNDRED THOUSAND.
Where are you going, soldiers,
With banner, gun, and sword ?
We're marching South to Canaan,
To battle for the Lord !
What captain leads your armies
Along the rebel coasts ?
The mighty One of Israel;
/ His name is Lord of Hosts !
To Canaan, to Canaan,
The Lord has led us forth,
To blow before the heathen walls
The trumpets of the North!
What flag is this you carry
» Along the sea and shore ?
The same our grand sires lifted up, ^
The same our fathers bore!
EMANCIPATION JUBILEE 207
In many a battle's tempest
It shed the crimson rain !
What God has woven in his loom
Let no man rend in twain !
To Canaan, to Canaan,
The Lord has led us forth,
To plant upon the rebel towers
The banners of the North!
What troop is this that follows
All armed with picks and spades ?
These are the swarthy bondsmen,
The iron-skin brigades !
They'll pile up Freedom's breastworks,
They'll scoop out rebels' graves :
Who then will be their owner,
And march them off for slaves ?
To Canaan, to Canaan,
The Lord has led us forth.
To strike upon the captive's chain
The hammers of the North !
What song is this you're singing ?
The same that Israel sung
When Moses led the mighty choir,
And Miriam's timbrel rung!
To Canaan! to Canaan!
The priests and maidens cried;
To Canaan ! to Canaan !
The people's voice replied.
To Canaan, to Canaan,
The Lord has led us forth.
To thunder through its adder-dens
The anthems of the North !
When Canaan's hosts are scattered,
And all her walls lie flat,
What follows next in order ?
The Lord will see to that! ] ^
208 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
We'll break the tyrant's sceptre;
We'll build the people's throne —
When half the world is Freedom's,
Then all the world's our own!
To Canaan, to Canaan,
The Lord has led us forth,
To sweep the rebel threshing-floors,
A whirlwind from the North !
In time these words became part of —
*^ I am bound for the Land of Canaan."
REFUGEES RETUEN HOME 209
BEFUGEES RETURN HOME
Early the next morning, after the emancipation
jubilee, we started for Beaufort on the government
steamer St. Helena. This was a small boat detailed
for use by the Freedmen's Bureau. There were two
hundred and seventy-five colored refugees on board,
under charge of Colonel Ketchum, returning to their
old homes near Savannah.
The rain fell steadily all day, and it was extremely
cold and disagreeable. The poor refugees were hud-
dled together between decks as close as they could
stand. There was not room for the sick and infirm
to sit or lie down, unless the more hardy gave up
their places and stood outside.
All these people had belonged to four brothers, so
they were really one family. When the war broke
out they were carried to a plantation near Charleston.
Now they were eager to get back to their old homes,
on the places where they were born. This love of
home is universal and intense amongst the negroes.
I never knew the pathos of the old negro melody: —
** O darkies, how my heart grows w^eary,
Far from the old folks at home."
210 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
I learned its meaning when I learned to know the
Colonel Ketchum, who had these people in charge,
did his best to make them less uncomfortable. More
he could not do. It was almost impossible to move
about without stepping upon some one. Mothers
hugged their children closely, to keep them from
How miserable they looked ! My heart ached for
them then, and does now as I think of them. A few
had blankets, but most of them had none, and were
scantily clothed. The heads of families had pro-
visions, — their "grub," they called it, — tied up
in "crocus" bags, or in handkerchiefs. I walked
around and talked with many of them. To my
question, "How do you do?" they invariably replied,
"Thank God, I lives!" "Us is so as to be moving
about, missis." "Us is mending."
"Aunty, are you not going back too soon?" I said
to an old woman. I had heard that these people had
been advised to stay where they were for another
" Don' know, missis," she calmly replied.
" What will you live on when you get home ? "
" Oh, I 'specs there will be something ; de people
mus' have something fur eat."
" But when that is gone what will you do ? "
" O missis, the good God will tuck care o' we.
He alluz does."
That settled it : the good God always does take
care. There was no complaining ; not a murmur nor
a querulous tone to be heard.
REFUGEES RETURN HOME 211
I had questioned these people because I knew that
Colonel Ketchum and others of the Freedmen's Bu-
reau were anxious about their future. They wished
to keep them under care until the affairs of the
country became more settled ; but their leaders
'^considered upon it," and decided they would "con-
trac' to work the old fields."
The rain fell in torrents. We were piloted through
the inside, or what was jocosely called the '' overland
route." The air was so thick we could not see across
the boat; of course our progress was very slow.
We frequently got aground on the sandbars, and
were obliged to wait for high tide to float us off.
And so we crept along during the day. Night
closed in early. Just before dark I saw some men
going around with pans of bread and hominy, which
they handed in small bits to the women and children.
" Us is scarce for grub, an' they mus' satisfy wid a
little bit at a time," they said. " Them ain't for
trus," nodding towards the children ; '' they want too
Poor creatures ! their hungry looks haunted me
for a long time.
After dark I heard loud singing in the forward
part of the boat, and was told the freedmen were
holding praise-meeting. Expressing a desire to lis-
ten to them, the young officer in charge kindly
offered to pilot me around. So with lantern in hand
we started out.
The boat was literally covered with these poor
destitute creatures. Colonel Ketchum had distrib-
212 FIKST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABAKDS
uted them around everywhere, trying to make their
condition more endurable. Some were crouched in
corners, .and others leaning against the railings,
whilst the children were put on top of barrels and
boxes and coils of rope. The women were on the
floor as close as sardines in a box ; all were settled
for the night, and they were very quiet. There was
no moving nor shuffling about, and in the darkness
it was hard to believe there was such a dense crowd
of human beings on board. We could with difficulty
make our way amongst them.
On one side we saw three women sitting on the
floor side by side, with their feet extended and a
poor sick girl lying across their laps.
" Her too sick to lie on the floor,* an' us try to res'
she, poor creetur," they said as we stopped to speak
The light from the lantern fell on the sick girl's
face ; she smiled, and whispered, —
''I is all right, thank you, ma'am."
" I am afraid she cannot live until morning," said
the young colonel with a sigh of compassion.
When we reached the " praise-meeting " we found
as many of the old people assembled together as
could sit or stand. They were outside, and so un-
sheltered, but fortunately it no longer rained ; the
wind, however, blew a hurricane. The night was
very dark, and the people had no light excepting the
small head-light of the boat; but the leaders ''lined
off " the hymns, which were sung by all, and repeated
verses from the Bible from memory. Then they
HEFtJGEE^ RETTJRN HOME 213
offered the most fervent prayers, filled with praise
and thanksgiving for " the bountiful marcies of God,"
unmindful of all the hardships thej^ had endured in
the past, and of their present discomforts.
" Surely the Lord will bless these people for their
implicit faith and trust in Him," we said to each
other as we left. We might well learn a lesson from
them which would help us through life.
When we returned to the cabin, the contrast be-
tween its light and heat and what we had just seen,
made us really uncomfortable for a time. But our
own accommodations were most meagre. In the ladies'
cabin were six empty berths, with neither mattress,
blanket, nor pillow ; however, we had all been in
the ranks long enough to know that whatever we
needed for personal comfort we must supply for our-
selves, whether at home or abroad; we were there-
fore provided, but there were others of our party
who had nothing. Fortunately the quartermaster in
Charleston had " turned over " to us a bundle of
army blankets and a box of soldiers' overcoats, for
the poor people in our district. We distributed
these for the night as far as they would go. All
night long I could hear the poor refugees coughing,
and the children crying and moaning in their uncom-
fortable positions ; but we heard no impatient word
or sigh of complaint.
We went out to carry a blanket to the sick girl,
and an overcoat to a very old man. To all our
questions as we passed along, the invariable reply
214 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
" Oh, thank God, missis ! "
The next morning we reached Beaufort, and the
refugees were able to go on shore. The storm was
over, and the day bright and clear, but the air was
The freedmen were very glad to walk about and
stretch their limbs, or sit uncramped in the broad sun-
shine. As soon as they got on shore, they brought
out their rations, corn-bread and hominy, which were
tied up in all sorts of odd bundles, and began to
eat their breakfast. As the boat was '' to lie over "
until the next day, to be cleaned and put in order,
Mr. Judd, superintendent of the island, took charge
of the refugees, and made them as comfortable as
circumstances would allow.
STORM AT SEA 215
STORM AT SEA
Our trip to Charleston just before Christmas had
been a most hazardous time. The wind blew a gale,
and the night was very dark. Our small boat, the
Rockland, sprang a-leak, and was tossed about all
night at the mercy of the wind and waves. The
freight was thrown overboard, our fires were out,
and for a time there seemed to be no hope of our
ever getting ashore ; but as soon as the day dawned,
the captain succeeded in " beaching " the boat, and
we lay there all day, tossed about until another
steamer was sent to hunt us up and take us off.
We were nearly famished when we reached Charles-
ton, having had nothing to eat for twenty-four hours.
The cold was extreme ; we had no place for rest.
When we returned to school, we found our people
had heard of the shipwreck, and that we were lost,
and there had been great excitement in our district.
After welcoming us back, the leaders asked if we
would be so pleased as to come to a big praise-
meeting they wished to hold in the schoolhouse
the following Sunday. It w^as indeed a big meet-
ing. The house was literally packed. They made
216 FIKST DAYS WITH THE CONTKABANDS
it a religious jubilee. Their prayers were devout
thanksgiving to God for " all his marcies " in re-
turning us in safety, and earnest promises to do their
best by us. "Stan' fast an' you shall see;" this was
the gist of the whole ; expressed as it was in their
uncouth phraseology, it was certainly unique.
Miss Lizzie, who had never been to one of these
meetings before, was greatly entertained by the ex-
pressions of a stranger, one of the soldiers, who
made quite a lengthy address. He began by say-
*' I can't read. My heart is my Bible. I can't run far wid you.
I'm a stranger to you, but not to God. You mus' use all de mir-
acles. Christ say you nuis' reflec' on the days of Ninevy. The
lady hab a hard fight to git here. Go an' remant about it. Let
prayers be your pocket-piece. Charity, as de lady tells you, don'
jes' mean 'git your money w'en you hab him.' It's like dis, jes'
so you meet ole lady comin' Bufort, you ax ole lady ride ; ole lady
say, ^ T'ank you,' or dat a sort, but hab great t'anks in him own
heart. Dat's charity; dat's greater dan money."
When the meeting was over there was such a gen-
eral shaking of hands, one of the young ladies de-
clared her arm felt like a pump-handle nearly
"Misery in the Head^ Ma amy
The weather continued frightfully cold, and there
was great destitution around us.
The contrabands continued to come to us so con-
stantly on Sundays for medicine, we decided they
must regard this as they did clothing, something to
be secured against time of need. But I am sure
"MISERY IN THE HEAD, MA'AM " 217
they came as much for a little chat, — " advice "
they called it, — as for anything else.
This first Sunday a woman brought her baby,
who was very ill. The poor mother looked really
anxious, but was quiet and phlegmatic. I asked
what was the matter with the baby.
'' Can't say, ma'am."
"Has she a cold?"
" I 'specs so, for him breathe bad."
I looked at the poor little creature, who seemed
to me hopelessly ill. "I am afraid your baby is
in a very bad way," I said. To which she calmly
" I 'specs so, missis."
" What have you done for her? "
" I ain't done nothing, missis. I ain't had nothing
On all such occasions I was greatly puzzled to
know what to do or say, for I was as ignorant
as the poor mother herself. I tried to make her
understand how important warmth and cleanliness
were for her child. I gave her nourishment for the
baby and food for herself, and she left quite cheered
up. The next day her little girl came to me, and,
making a courtesy, said, " Titty say t'ank you
ma'am, baby is died."
I did not know why she thanked me. Whether
for what I had tried to do, or in answer to my ex-
pected inquiry about the little one.
This woman was one who had " half a husband,"
having been for a long time the wife of Pompey,
218 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
whose first wife was carried off up country '' in old
secesh times." But during the war, wife number one
returned to the old quarters. Pompey immediately
left woman number two to take care of herself and
two children, and returned to the woman who was
his first choice.
There were a great many such cases, which neither
moral nor civil law could adjust.
About this time small-pox broke out in our neigh-
borhood, and made sad work. Black Sally was tell-
ing the young ladies about this one day, when she
exclaimed, ''Look out. Miss Lizzie, small -pox very
love fat folks," as if this was a most cheerful sub-
The patience- of the freed people in sickness was
so general and remarkable, it seemed like apathy.
One day I went to see Violet, a refugee from
Georgia, who was very ill. Her door was closed,
but a neighbor who was on guard inserted a stick
in a crack in the door, and so lifted the latch.
" Eleven weeks I have been in bed," said the sick
woman, '' but I have made up my mind to leave all
with God. He will not put more on me than I can
I looked at her in astonishment, and wondered if
I could learn such patience and submission under all
trials. Her room was scrupulously neat, and in good
order. She had formerly been house-servant, and be-
longed to kind owners.
Old Richard lived at the negro quarters. He was
ill, and at times a great sufferer. But when talking
with me he always ended with, —
PREPARING FOR WORK 219
'' Thank God, ma'am ! it is all done now. I have
laid myself in the hands of the Big Massa, an' he
will take me up an' put me down as he fin's for my
good, an' I can only bless his name."
Richa'rd was quite a remarkable man, with but few
of the peculiar characteristics of his race. He had
had some exceedingly hard experiences, but when we
spoke of them he always ended with, —
" Thank God ! it's all done, now."
Preparing for Work.
At the beginning of the year the contrabands in our
district were eager to renew their contracts with the
same superintendent who had been with them the
last year. In January they began to gather sedge
and marsh-mud to fertilize their fields. This work
greatly interrupted their attendance at school. But
all, even the oldest, clung to their books, and were
unwilling to be dropped out.
They regarded the enrollment as a title of honor,
and to be scratched off the list a dishonor.
''Let Them starve and die.^^
One day a stranger came to see us, who was intro-
duced as the new superintendent for the whole island.
He told us a bill had just been passed in Congress to
give to the freed people on Edisto Island the use of
all the land there for three years ; also that three
million acres of land were to be set apart and given
We felt this was good news, if true, and if the
220 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
''act," or bill, would hold; but we were distrustful
after so many disappointments.
The new officer was indifferent to the welfare of
the people under his charge. Like some other gov-
ernment officers, he spoke of the freed people as if
they were a herd of cattle.
I find recorded, March 4, 1866, "If we had the
right kind of superintendents, there would be no
trouble with the colored people. As it is, more is
done to unsettle and dishearten them than to help
them on. They need to be advised and encouraged,
instead of which, they are ordered about and cheated."
A great many speculators were flocking into the
department, to buy and lease the old plantations.
The contrabands were ready to do anything for their
friends in whom they had faith, but they were sus-
picious of strangers. They were not idle or lazy.
On the contrary, they seemed to have a passion for
work. But they knew nothing of order, or system,
or economy of time. So nine-tenths of their labor
went for nothing. In this particular they needed so
much help, and got so little. They wanted a clear,
judicious head to plan for them. Very few of the
planters or teachers would see this, or take the
" Him ainH much on de Needle.''^
Most of the woman around us had always been
field-hands, and they knew nothing of any other
kind of work.
One of the old men came to me to signify his ap-
"HIM ain't much ok DE NEEDLE " 221
probation of his wife^s learning to sew. He apolo-
gized for her deficiency by saying, " Him ain't much
on de needle, but him's great on de hoe."
A woman who came to school did not know what
a book was for, nor how to hold it. She looked as if
she thought learning was something we could drop
into her hands, and she gazed with great curiosity at
the book when given to her, turning it cautiously
round and round in her hand. Finally, she fixed her
eyes steadily upon it, as she saw the children doing.
The next time I passed her I found her closely scan-
ning the page with her book upside down. She was
greatly amused when I turned it and set her right.
After this she got on bravely. She told me she sat
up half the night ''to catch her lesson." Her hus-
band came and thanked me for my help to his wife,
saying he was " quite willing to give her a chance to
get a little school larning." He spoke of her as if she
were his slave. A manner most of the colored men
When we drove past the negro houses, the men and
women often came out with their books and begged
us to give them lessons in reading, which we did, sit-
ting in the wagon. They had profound respect for
education, and felt that if they could read they would
come nearer to the white race, and could better com-
pete with them ; all of which was true.
One night in June we had a cyclone, which blew
down our schoolhouse and twisted off the tops of
some magnificent live-oaks, so they hung by fibres,
like wisps of straw. A most intelligent schoolboy
came to tell us of this disaster.
222 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
" Dem folks coming from the fields say we school-
house is done bio wed down ! " he exclaimed.
" O Tom ! Tom ! You forget your grammar,"
said one of the 3^oung ladies.
" That's so, Miss Fannie. Yur must really excuse
me this time ; I done forget," he replied, bowing and
This reminds me of a little girl in the Frogmore
School who was trying to parse sister. She was
greatly puzzled about the gender for a time, then she
exclaimed in triumph, waving her hands, —
" Him's feminine. Miss Ellen ! Him's a gal ! "
Poor and plain as our schoolhouse was, it was all
we had. When we saw it lying in ruins, we real-
ized how important a part of our lives its poor walls
had become, and how impossible to do without them.
We literally sat down to weep over these ruins.
This cyclone did great damage all over the island.
At '' Quartermaster's Village," a negro settlement,
the houses were overturned as if made of paper, and
several persons were killed and wounded.
The Midnight Funeral.
A young colored sergeant just returned from the
army died, and was buried at midnight. He had
lived at the negro quarters, not far from us. He died
a little after dark. His friends immediately assem-
bled and held a watch-meeting, which they call " a
setting-up." All night long we could hear their sol-
emn chanting and clapping of hands, as they beat the
time. They had a praise-meeting before the house,
FIRST EXAMINATION 223
as they believe the spirit remains with the body
until daylight, when it takes leave and goes home to
the heavenly Father as the morning stars go out.
The comrades of the young sergeant wished to
bury him with military honors, so they waited until
the next night at midnight. They had a long pro-
cession, with torches and a muffled drum. Then al).
the women and children straggled along, singing their
spirituals. It was a sombre sight as this sable pro-
cession wound around through the grove. As the
tones of their spirituals reverberated through the
arches of this '' God's first temple," I was reminded
of the Pilgrim's March in Tannhauser.
The freed people had many quaint expressions. At
one of the festivals the women were delighted with
the display of Christmas gifts. One exclaimed, ''I
should like to keep this in my eyes forever."
A girl brought a letter from her brother for us to
read to her. They had just lost their mother. He
wrote, '' I hope my mother is gone to heben, becoze
it is a better place for she to live, an' never die no
This first examination was an event in the neigh-
borhood. Old men and women came early, to see
and hear what was being done : — the man usually
with the wreck of a huge umbrella under his arm, and
the woman with spotless kerchief carefully folded
and tied around her head.
One of the boys wrote pait of an example given
224 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
him, then became confused, and, scratching his head
as he puzzled over it, exclaimed, —
" Oh, talk him over. Miss Fannie ! Talk him over,"
wishing to have the question repeated.
The copy-books were handed around for inspec-
tion. One woman having her child's book given her,
showed it with great pride to those sitting near, de-
claring she was " proud for mad," and " glad for mad,"
that her child ''could larn for write like that."
Looking over her shoulder I saw she was showing the
book " bottom side up." I turned it for her, when
she said apologetically, —
'' Dem chillen know a heap more'na me. When
they come home they talk so smart, I ain't know
what they say, but I is proud all the same."
This woman voiced the feelings of all the others.
It is needless to say her children went on and up.
Before they got beyond her ken she was called to a
We liad many and far more important examinations
and exhibitions as the years went on, but none so
full of interest as this first one.
HARD TIMES 225
Ik the winter of 1865 all the freed people in our
district were working with a will. But we could not
forget that only two years before this most of these
people were in slavery '' on the main." They came
off destitute of everything. The superintendents were
obliged to advance provisions to them before they
could begin to work. The superintendent of our dis-
trict bought provisions at as low price as possible, and
furnished them to the negroes at cost. But on a
neighboring plantation the manager kept a store, from
which he paid his hands, charging extravagant
prices. So in the end the people were always in debt
to him, and had nothing to begin the new year with.
They had no clothing, and no money to buy any.
The quartermaster's clerk in Charleston sent us a
box with one hundred and fifty new garments for
men, women, and children ; but we were able to give
only one garment apiece, and had not enough to go
around. The report was constantly circulated that
under the most favorable circumstances the colored
people would never be able to take care of themselves.
True, the freed people had never practised care and
226 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
economy of material. How could they, when they
had never owned anything to care for? Like all
ignorant and neglected poor, they were careless and
improvident to the last degree.
The year the war closed the freed people in our
district realized three thousand dollars from the sale
of their cotton. Besides, they made good crops of
corn and other provisions. This encouraged them so
much, they decided to plant more cotton and less corn
the next year. Then prices went down, and the yield
of cotton was light, so they got only between three
and four hundred dollars in money ; and bef6re the
beginning of the working season all were out of pro-
visions. They were obliged to pay three dollars a
bushel for corn, and for other necessaries accordingly.
Of course they got in debt before the w^orking season
began. They were compelled to give a lien upon the
crops they raised, or equivalent to a mortgage upon
their year's labor.
On some of the islands near us the freed people
hired and bought land, and worked independent of
any white superintendent. Some of the finest cotton
in market was made by these people.
The negroes on the mainland had desperate times.
They lived on roots and the acorns from the woods.
These were the old refugees who had been under our
care and had returned to their former homes. It was
trying to see these people working so hard, with such
poor results, whilst we were powerless to save them
The contrabands around us were docile and simple-
officers' inspection 227
hearted. The superintendent started a small store
to sell hominy and meat and other provisions. We
called this " the people's store," for the old men were
always called upon to help, and were very proud of
A woman whom I knew, came from another plan-
tation to tell me how things were going there. The
superintendent had refused to advance more provis-
ions. At the end she said, —
" Well, ef it mus' be so, some o' them peoples mus'
dead from hunger, sure." This was in the blackberry
season. All the people had gone to town to sell ber-
ries to buy provisions.
"1 tell Joe to hurry right back," she continued,
"so my mother could have something to eat. I don't
see what the people can do. They is punish too bad."
To this we heartily agreed ; they were punished too
A large party of government officials came to see
us. We were told they wished for information about
the freedmen; but instead of asking questions, they
gave us their preconceived opinions. One of the offi-
cers was making a tour of inspection from Washing-
ton to Texas, and the assistant commissioner for South
Carolina was showing his department. I find this
in my note-book of that date : —
** They profess to be acting for the Freedmen's Bureau, but
manifest no interest in the freed people, nor in what is done or left
undone for them. They came with fixed opinions, and do not
228 FIRST DAYS WITH THE COiSTTRABANDS
wish to hear nor see anything to change these opinions. We de-
cide they are for the President, against the Bureau.''
These were, indeed, trying days for the poor con-
trabands. So many of the planters had failed to keep
their contracts with them for the last year, that now
they had nothing to show for their labor, and they
were quite destitute. Most of the white planters had
become discouraged by the low price of cotton, so the
negroes were obliged to work their small ten-acre lots.
All the men and women worked famously, beginning
early to list and prepare the ground for planting.
They were industrious, and tried hard to take care of
themselves. When they failed, it was through igno-
rance. Many of the white men had become discour-
aged and given up planting, and the freedmen had
neither money nor provisions. The work of recon-
struction was slow and tedious. We might as well
expect a new-born infant to become a man in four
years as that this race, newly born to freedom, should
become self-supporting and self-protecting at once.
When the working season came on, the men and
women could only come to the school part of the
time ; they must " slack off a little," they said. So
some came the first half of the day, and the others
the last. It was gratifying to see the marked improve-
ment in the cleanliness and general appearance of
the children. They kept their clean aprons, etc.,
by them in the field ready to put on when they came
We gave out new trousers and jackets to some
very little boys. A few days after we dismissed
them, and told them to run home, as it was beginning
'' But I must take off my jacket first," said one lit-
tle fellow not more than four years old. Thereupon
all took off their jackets and rolled them up and put
them under their arms, marching off unmindful of
the rain and our remonstrances. It was difficult to
draw the line for them between too much and too lit-
The freed people began to settle upon their own
ten-acre lots, but only a few were able to build houses ;
the rest lived in mud-huts, and in any way by which
they could construct a shelter.
The returned soldiers were trying to secure their
back pay and bounties, and we struggled in vain to
Those days of reconstruction were times of constant
delays and vain expectations and disappointments.
Just at this crisis our letters stopped coming to us.
We were told the steamers between Charleston and
Savannah had brought the mail only as an accommo-
dation. The proprietors had decided to do this no
longer, and were waiting for some regular arrange-
ments to be made. Of course we imagined the office
in Charleston was '' slopping over " with letters, and
that most important events were waiting to be re-
vealed to us.
It was reported the express agent was to start off
loaded with mail matter from our benighted region.
230 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
We wrote our friends not to be alarmed if they heard
nothing more from us at present ; they would know
we were waiting to be reconstructed, and to pray with
us, " God speed the right."
When drum-fish came it seemed a signal for a gen-
eral holiday. All the men and older boys must have
at least one day of sport in fishing. So the smaller
children were kept at home to ''mind fowls" and
''mind birds;" that is, scare the crows from the corn.
Now the freedmen began to interest themselves in
politics, feeling for the first time that they had a part
in public affairs. I must confess, "carpet-baggers"
sprang up in this vicinity like caterpillars over the
growing cotton-fields. The poor contrabands might
well exclaim, " Save me from my friends, and I will
take care of the enemy ! "
April 15, 1867, there was a large " ratification "
meeting in Beaufort, S.C. A colored Republican
club was inaugurated, the first ever formed. The
freed people seemed to be equal to the demands made
upon them, and readily to assimilate with their new
conditions. There was no doubt the world was
About this time Rev. Mr. Elliot, an Episcopal
clergyman, son of a distinguished rebel officer, deliv-
ered a lecture intended to unite the tv/o factions.
Northerners and Southerners. There was a crowded
house, with about an equal number from each sec-
tion. This was really the first attempt at coalition.
People around us began to say the Southerners were
ready to let "bygones be bygones." How was it with
us ? Many of the old residents had returned to the
town, despoiled of everything they had once pos-
sessed. A few were able to get back their old
homes, but others went into small dwellings and
hired houses. Their property had been confiscated,
and their possessions scattered. They had neither
houses nor furniture nor servants. Many ladies most
delicately reared were obliged to take up menial ser-
vice. With all our hearts we pitied them and de-
plored their misfortunes.
The Southern ladies were true to their antecedents.
They bravely took up their duties without complaint,
and never asked for help. But a large class of
women living at the South constantly bemoaned their
condition. They asked for sympathy and aid, whilst
despising the hand that helped them. The term
" Yankee" was to them the synonyme for all that was
base and mean.
'' Do you charge as much for French lessons as for
music? " said a lady to a Southerner who was seeking
'' Oh, yes ; I find I am obliged to do like all you
Yankee women, earn my own living, and make all
the money I can," she replied, with a toss of her head.
To which her hostess answered she hoped she would
feel as did the best of the Northern women, that labor
was no disgrace, but an honor when well done.
A Southern woman, one of the '•'- poor whites,"
called upon a Northerner one day, and begged for
sewing. She told a pitiful tale of distress and hard
times, saying it had not always been so with her. I
232 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
have noticed it is this class of people, those who had
not much to lose, who complain most of loss of fortune
The lady told her to come the next day and she
would find something for her to do. So at the
appointed time she gave into her own hands a full
dress pattern, and the woman went away very happy.
A short time after this a small colored girl came to
the lady and said, '' Missis wants you to ^end three
yards more of cloth to finish your gown." The lady
was greatly surprised, but said she would call and see
When she arrived she found the woman in a
towering rage. She burst out at once, —
" Did you bring the cloth ? If I had it, what do
you think has become of it? "
The lady mildly replied that was what she came to
'^ Yes," said the woman with a sneer, ''none but a
nigger or a mean Yankee would ever ask what became
of a piece of cloth. You must know that nine yards
won't make a dress, for I don't doubt you were a
dressmaker at home." This she doubtless considered
the sharpest cut of all. But her sarcasm fell short of
the mark. My Northern friend was surprised and
repelled, but by no means angry.
We were soon able to discriminate between the old
residents, for we saw that the " old aristocracy " were
quiet and reserved, saying but little of the past or the
present. The ladies lived in great seclusion, but
when brought face to face with strangers always
showed themselves courteous and refined.
It was curious and interesting to watch the changes
going on around us on all sides. Our colored cook,
who was a very shrewd woman, referring to the
Southerners, said, —
'' You jes' let 'em 'lone, ma'am. Yur never know
which way a cat is going to jump."
234 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTKABANDS
WITH THE FREEDMEN
No longer Contrabands.
In the meantime, the freedmen were struggling
along as best they could. The children tried to sell
blackberries, but this fruit was so abundant that nobody
wanted to buy. The highest price was three cents
for two quarts, and the children walked five or six
miles to get this. We could di'aw government ra-
tions, — a little corn and pork for the oldest and most
helpless of the people ; but we were obliged to give
provisions — meat, flour, salt, hominy, and soap — to a
large number of field-hands. Our Northern friends
sent us funds to enable us to do this, always trying
to strengthen our hands.
The women were desirous to keep their children in
school, but they needed their help at home. So they
came to beg us to give them their " lessons quick,"
and send them back ; " for the grass shines mightily in
the cotton," said one woman.
We were obliged to give up one of our teachers in
the spring, and we had to reduce the number of
scholars in attendance. No one wished to be dropped
out. They made most touching appeals to Miss
WITH THE FUEEDMEN 236
Fannie, who kept the record, not to scratch off their
" Just me one, you know. Miss Fannie," they would
In giving out clothing, we were obliged to be
careful not to arouse discontent, where so much was
needed. Cleanliness must be rewarded; but the
untidiness of the children was the fault of the par-
ents ; and in most cases we knew the mothers could
do no better. They were always working away from
home, and the children were left to care for them-
In the autumn steam cotton-gins had been started
in the town and on remote plantations. Two or
three hundred women were employed in the cotton-
barns. They " sorted " and " molted " the cotton,
worked it through the gin, sifted the seed, and helped
to pack and sew the bags. Whilst this interrupted
our school work, we were gratified when told by the
proprietors that we had the most reliable class of
women, and the best workers of any to be found.
They always sent to our district when help was
Many mothers started long before daylight, and
walked four or five miles to town. Sometimes they
took their rations for breakfast and dinner with
them, and sometimes those were brought later by the
children. They worked from daylight till dark, and
then walked home after dark. For this they received
forty and fifty cents a day, and fed themselves. The
cotton-dealers felt they could not afford to give more
236 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
in these unsettled times. This little was a great help
to the poor freed people, who had not received, a cent
of money for their year's labor. Planters did not
sell their crops until very late, and could not pay
until this was done.
We were sure that a lazy or bad ^oman would not
walk ten miles a day to earn half a dollar to buy
bread for her family. If she did not keep them tidy
as we wished, we had no heart to complain. We felt
that the condition of these people, and the restrictions
on labor, were but little understood. We were con-
vinced that plenty to eat would harmonize and Chris-
tianize them faster than hymns and sermons ; and that
needles and thread and soap and decent clothing were
the best educators, and would civilize sooner than
The colored women seemed to delight more in an
old garment than a new one. They felt at liberty to
cut and alter and patch it ad libitum; besides it
gave them excuse for asking for " one needle and a
leetle bit o' thread," which they always got.
At one time we had thirty new plaid worsted
dresses all cut and basted sent us for the seAving-
school. The girls were delighted ; but when they
carried them home, the mothers considered them alto-
gether too short. It was highly indecorous to have
the feet and ankles show below the dress ; so they
pieced them out, often with most unsuitable material,
putting old cloth with the new, and a cotton frill to
a worsted skirt. One woman got new cloth, which
she inlaid to widen and lengthen and enlarge her
WITH THE FREEDMEN 2C7
child's gown. It looked, when done, like a modern
''crazy quilt." It was very odd, but really not ugly.
For a time very many little children died. It was
not possible to see they had the care given to the
young in better conditions. From this the assertion
arose that '•' the colored people were fast dying out."
April 1, 1867, government rations began to be dis-
tributed in our district, but these were limited to a
very few persons ; only aged people too infirm to
work, and invalids who had no relations, and mother-
less children, were to be rationed. Each grown per-
son received seven pounds of hominy and one and
three-quarters pounds of bacon a week. Children
were to draw half this amount. All else, soap, salt,
sugar, flour, and molasses, and sometimes rice and
candles, were furnished by us.
We could not say of these people they had no
family ; the poorest were blessed with relatives. We
could only repeat what was often said to us, " none
of any account." So we were forced to ration not
only those who were sick, but those who took care of
We had in care old Aunt Mila, who was a widow
and childless and very infirm ; also old Aunt Peg,
who could only " min' child." Speaking of her
master, who was very white-headed, she said, —
'' Oh, massa ain't old as me. Us been playfellows
togedder. But massa ain't stan' lika me, ma'am.
Hard work an' beatin' about make us grow ole too
fast. Us been ole w'en him young. Massa lib soft
w'en us lib hard."
238 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
One morning early we were told old Daddy Isaac
had gone home. He had been helpless for a long
time. With his snow-white head and grizzly beard,
he seemed like a breathing image of the pictures of
death in the old-fashioned catechisms.
As I stood by his grave I thought how glorious
heaven must seem to this poor old man, so despised
and rejected and beat about here. How he would
wonder to find himself ministered to by the angels,
when his highest wish here had been to have me put
something into his hands to eat.
" Yourself, missis, please. Right in my hand here,"
he would say, and whatever I gave him he received
with great satisfaction. I have thought sometimes
that perhaps it seemed like a communion service to
the old man to have the bread broken for him.
All his life he had lain on a blanket on the floor ;
I tried to have him put on a bed, but he declined : —
'' Oh, no, missis, I t'ank you," he said. '* Oh, no ;
kase this place is used to me."
During the war our island had been stripped of
everything ; so when the freed people began to work
for themselves they had nothing but their hands and
hoes to work with ; no animals, and no agricultural
Some of the men and women built for themselves
" mud-huts," so as to live on their own lands. These
were sometimes called " camps," in which the peo-
ple lived in the most, miserable manner. These huts
WITH THE FREEDMEN 239
might be safe in Lapland, but were sure death on the
sea-islands. The newly upturned earth above and
beneath them was full of malarious poison.
These huts consisted of four rough posts from six
to eight feet high, with sides of plank, which the
people split from the pine-trees in the woods. The
pine boughs were laid on the top for a roof, and this
was covered with a thick coating of mud from the
swamps. There was no floor and no chimney. The
dwellers sat and slept on the ground, and built their
fires on one side, letting the smoke go out of the
cracks. When it rained, the place was flooded, and
when the sun came out the steaming mass sent out
In June we had eight days of constant rain, a
most unusual storm for the season. In the midst of
one of the heaviest showers a freedman came to tell
me his little girl was very sick, and there was no
place in his camp where they could keep her from
the water. Before we could arrange to have her
removed, the little creature died.
This is a picture of the condition of very many
others. They went into these huts against the wishes
and advice of their best friends, in order to save rent
or any tax upon their next crops. They wanted to
save something to help build houses for themselves.
When the young and able-bodied people were out
of provisions, we were advised to advance a little to
them, keeping an account, which they were to pay
when their cotton was picked and sold. This was to
help them to be independent. It was hard for these
240 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
working people to be told, as they were sometimes,
that they must not eat as much as they wanted, and
must be thankful not to starve.
One morning I found a man who had once been
house-servant waiting to see me. He tried, to speak,
but broke down and began to cryl At last he told
me he came for help; he and his wife and five chil-
dren had not a mouthful of food. I asked why he
did not come to me before.
'' O ma'am, I so shame for come ! When the
people comes all the time for trouble you, it 'pears
like they wants to 'pose upon you," he said.
Another day a little boy from '' Hangman's
Swamp" came to us before breakfast. He was not
more than eight years old, and had walked ten miles,
bringing with him half a dozen green apples, so as
not to come empty-handed. His mother was ill, and
she begged for English flour and molasses. She had
six children to feed, and nothing for them to eat.
They were refugees from Georgia. The weather
was so bad it was not possible to send the little fellow
off that day, but the next morning as soon as it was
light he was started off. Knowing the circumstances
of the family, we pictured to ourselves the eagerness
of the other little ones as they hurried out of the
woods to the main road, to watch for the coming of
their brother, who was sure to bring them relief.
Events rushed on so fast, one could be only just
noted when others more important would spring up.
Immediately after the little boy's visit another mes-
senger came to tell us the sick mother had died and
WITH THE FREEDMEN 241
they had no burial clothes for her. The woman who
brought this message had also walked the ten miles
before breakfast. We sent Uncle Ned to take her
part of the way back in the buggy. Besides the
needed clothes for burial, she took with her such
provisions as she could carry on her head.
In the autumn of 1867 we found a poor condition
of affairs. Many things had seemed to conspire
against the freed people ; unprecedented rains the
first of the season; then caterpillars, which came
two years in succession, instead of once in seven
years, as formerly reported. These were followed by
sickness everywhere, until the strength and courage
of the freedmem were gone. The Northern people
around us were disheartened. But some Southerners
— ''poor whites," in the town, who had nothing to
lose, — looked upon these untoward circumstances as a
special manifestation of God's wrath. The colored
people were the most hopeful. All they asked was
work to do ; so the men and boys went to Savannah
to help gather the rice-crop, whilst the women
picked the - cotton thinly scattered over the fields,
which they carried to town on their heads to sell.
Smart mid Mary Washington.
These were two of the most intelligent and thrifty
people around us. They had bought land and built
a little house, and had made a large crop of corn as
well as of cotton. Their house was a home as well
242 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
as a haven of rest for all of '' massa's niggers " who
needed such. But they themselves never asked for
Old Maria, a '^ fellow-sarvent " who had " refugeed '*
with them, became ill, so she dragged herself to
Smart's house, knowing she would be taken in and
cared for. They did what they could for her. She
was '' one o' massa's niggers," and she had " no 'fam-
ily," which means a great deal to the colored people.
She was helpless, and had come there to die.
Just after the crops were gathered in and stored.
Smart's house took fire and burned down. Trying
to save the poor old helpless woman, he and Mary
lost everything else. In this disaster I thought the
old man's courage would surely fail. On the con-
trary, he said, —
" The Big Massa do all things, an' if this be him
will, it ought to be my pleasure, an' it shall be."
They built a '' shelter tent " over the old woman,
until we could have her removed to a cabin, and
Mary '* minded " her by day and Smart by night.
Very soon the '' Big Massa " sent his angels to carry
the poor helpless creature home. Smart came and
begged me 'Ho funeralize the body."
''There mus' be something in your prayer-book
you kin read for a funeral sarmon," he said. He also
begged me to read the nineteenth chapter of Revela-
tion, " Blessed are they wliich are called unto the
marriage supper of the Lamb." " And does it not
tell you to ' write ? ' " asked the old man.
We had the service out-of-doors. The sun shone
WITH THE FREEDMEK 243
warm and bright as we stood around the rude coffin
made of rough boards. Smart was strenuous that no
word of the burial service should be omitted, even to
the sprinkling of ashes on the coffin.
Miss Fannie wrote to some friends in the North
of Smart's misfortunes and patience — for he came
" to revise with me according to his distrust " (dis-
tress) — and these friends sent money for us to build
him a house. When we told him of this, and that
there should be a good chimney and glazed windows
and a piazza, he could not speak. As he said later, —
" The water splash all over my face. My heart's
so full, I'se 'bleged to cry."
Soon after the old people were settled in their new
house. Smart found his brother, a poor half-witted
fellow, and brought him home to stay. He had
always been good-natured, but was " an innocent,"
they called him. Long before the war the overseer
set him a hard task, which he failed to do ; so he
ran away and hid until he was starved out, when he
came back. For this the overseer ordered an anklet
to be forged on to his left ankle, which was done.
But the poor fellow "howled so," they threw water
upon the hot iron, which scalded all the flesh. The
iron band was taken off, but the wound never healed.
During the war Smart lost sight of his brother;
but as soon as he found him he brought him " home
to die." He and his family were greatly rejoiced to
find the wanderer.
He only lived a short time, so Smart came again to
beg me "to funeralize the body." But when I
244 FIRST DAYS WITH THE COKTRABAKBS
reached the house the '' box " for the body was not
made. '' No matter," said the old man ; " please read
the sarvice, then we has nothing to do but put him
in the box and kiver him up," which I proceeded to
do, whilst a man scattered real ashes over the body.
Truly "no matter " ! In spite of his hard past, and his
present rough surroundings, he had inherited the
kingdom ; the same promises given to the highest
in the land were his.
Good Mary Washington did not long enjoy the
comforts, I may say luxuries, of her new house.
When she died, Smart was indeed bereaved. He
said, '' I am lonesome to death." He sent word he
wished to see me, " for I am pretty much cut up
I appointed an interview, and he came looking most
forlorn, and said, —
" I can't live so, I declar', ma'am ; I jes' begin to
miss Mary. Now the old woman is a great missing
everywhere ; the very dumb animals is all broke up
an' mourn for him so ; an' w'en I hear the creeturs
cry, it cuts like a sword through my heart."
Then shuffling and looking down he said, "I t'inks,
ma'am, I mus' have some gal come to stay wid me an'
keep my house."
" But Mary has not been dead two months ! " I ex-
" That's so, ma'am ; but I can't live so."
I thought his lot was a hard one, so I told him to
be very careful who he chose, for there were not
many girls who could fill good Mary's place.
WITH THE :freedmen 245
'' Oh, I is keerf ul," he said. " I done pick him out
already ; a real likely gal. I 'specs to make a wife
I was not a little astonished, but told him to bring
the girl for me to see.
''I done bring him already," said the old man.
Thereupon he opened the door, and beckoned to some
''Scrape your foot, gal, and show the lady your
manners," said he.
His intended bride was a coarse, stolid-looking ne-
gress, middle-aged, without any of the gentleness
and real refinement which belonged to Aunt Mary.
She assured me she " t'ink well of the ole man, an'
was sure to do her best."
But she was so taken up gazing around the room,
and taking note of all the new and curious things
she saw, she paid but little heed to what was said to
Smart's new wife proved a "poor investment."
Not many months after the marriage both begged me
to come and settle some domestic difficulties ; but
there seemed no hope of readjustment, and after
several trials I advised the old man to return the
woman to her former home on the Shell Road, which
he gladly did.
Blind Josey had been enrolled in school, and
he always insisted upon standing in a class and re-
peating the lesson after the other children. He died,
and I was asked to go to the '' back field " and read
246 FIEST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
the burial service. I found the rough box put on a
small table out-of-doors ; a piece of white cloth,
evidently a skirt ripped up, covered it, and on this
the school-children had placed some flowers. I read
the service as requested, and ashes were thrown over
the box, after which it was put i^to a mule-cart.
Then the poor mother, who was lame, came out with
an old coat over her head, and took a seat on the box.
The procession started, the school-children following
behind vociferously singing. When they reached the
grave, the leader told them to " put down the box,
and kiver it up, for the missis had done buried it
Some Northern friends came to see us, and we took
them one night to a " praise-meeting." Uncle Major,
the leader, thanked the Lord " for allowing " our
friends to come here. " Dey who t'ink it no robbery
to leave dar homes an' 'biding-places to come here to
stop wid we for a season."
When Thanksgiving Day came in 1867, we wished
to remember the time with our Northern friends.
We had peace if not plenty, and were contented if
not comfortable. By we I mean the colored peo-
ple. In the virtue of patience and contentment
they led. We decided to introduce this day to
the very old people, so we gave thirty men and
women one pound of hacon^ and a pint of molasses ;
this was all we could do. But they declared with
great glee this was the first Thanksgiving they ever
Nov. 26, 1868, was appointed as a national Thanks-
giving. The governor of South Carolina also i§-
sued a proclamation for the observance of that day.
I do not know that this was the first Thanksgiving
proclamation ever issued in the State, but it was the
first after the war, and the first in which the negroes
My young companion was jubilant over this. She
wrote home : —
"How nice it is to be once more in the Union, and to have the
same holidays as our Northern friends. Think of us now as recon-
248 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTKABAKDS
structed; I am sure we ought to be so considered after Wade
Hampton's last. Is it not glorious to have such unanimity of
feeling throughout the country ? "
To signalize and celebrate this Thanksgiving, we
invited twelve of our oldest and most decrepit con-
trabands to a state dinner. It was a great occasion.
One old man, who had never sat down at a table, pre-
ferred to take his plate in his hand and sit on the
piazza to eat. The rest took their seats with great
composure. We knew they had never sat at a table
before, and were interested to see what they would
do ; but they were- embarrassed by our presence, so
we left them to the care of Aunt Jane and Uncle
Ned, who were ostensibly our cook and butler, and who
waited upon them with the polite attention worthy a
more conspicuous occasion. No pen-and-ink sketch
can represent this unique group. It would require
an artist's brush and a graphic pen to describe their
manners and dress and conversation. All were pure
black. The women wore bright, well-arranged ker-
chiefs, and the men had on conspicuous neckties.
They were neat and orderly as possible under the
" Shall I give you a cup of coffee, sir? " says Aunt
Jane ; or, '' Do you wish me to cut you a piece of
meat, ma'am ? " says Uncle Ned. '' If you please,
ma'am ; " or, " Do so brudder," were the replies.
These people were intimately associated daily, but
they were now " on their dignity.'*
SHORT STORIES 249
A man hurried to the school, saying, he wanted
''to catch one or two lessons, for he was "jes' crazy
A ''settled" (married) Avoman thought if she
could only learn her letters it would be something.
We gave her a book with the alphabet to take home
with her. The next day she returned, and, pointing
to the letter B, said she had " been chasing him all
night, but couldn't catch him."
Old Aunt Hetty was a great-grandmother. She
and Uncle Major had just built themselves a small
house, cutting the trees, and splitting out the planks
themselves, which they "toted" on their shoulders to
their lot. They were very happy when they moved
into this house, after living all their lives in the
negro quarters — " nigger houses " they called them.
One day Hetty came to me full of trouble. After
narrating her grievances, she looked up most cheer-
fully, and exclaimed, " But, bless the Lord ! w'en I
puts my foot first out o' bed in the morning, and thinks
this is my own floor, an' I is free, I can't thankful
I went to the quarters on an errand one night, and
saw a child we called " the little woman," sitting
on the hearth reading her book by firelight, while
her feet were buried in the warm ashes. The mother
said, " Oh, I is so glad to hear my child read at night!
It makes me proud. She knows so much, an' I ain't
250 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
I punished a boy by placing him in a corner with
his face to the wall. When his mother heard of it
she was highly offended, because I " hurt the feelings
of her boy." She sent me a saucy letter, in which
she said I " could lick him, for licks is a very good
thing for a chile, but she didn't want his feelings
I showed the letter to some of the older people.
They were greatly incensed at her. Her sister
stopped me as I rode by, " to make me sensible " she
did not approve of Rose's conduct. Said she, " Rose
an' me had one mother, but two fathers, an' her
always was a crack-brained nigger, anyhow."
Rose's mother also came to express her displeasure,
saying, she "would not have my feelings hurted for
something handsome. Her is a flat-nosed, thick-
lipped, know-nothing nigger, an' alluz was."
Old Uncle Ned wished to go North with us to
work, and to take a young friend Avith him. I told
him it might not be easy to arrange matters for him
in a Northern home.
''In course," he said, "I doesn't wish to discommo-
date Masser John. But, Lord bless you, ma'am ! he
needn't trouble hisself 'bout dat, fur Fred an' me,
us could sleep in de barn, up-stairs, an' us could eat
whar de people is, an' no trouble to nobody."
On Good Friday a little girl came, bringing a very
small chicken to give us, assuring us it was ''not fur
sell." I very well knew help was needed in every
house. The chicken was a polite offering as a
reminder. I asked the child if she had had breakfast,
or anything to eat.
SHORT STOKIES 251
" No, ma'am ; us waiting now for the tide to go
out so us can go into the creek to catch crabs," she
There were so many destitute people around us it
nearly drove us wild. Ned, our house-servant, made
up his mind the people must starve.
I heard Hector, our little waiter, singing in a loud
" O Lord! w'en I die,
I want to git to heben,
My Lord, w'en I die."
Looking out of the window, I saw him shouting
on the back piazza, hopping first on one foot and
then on the other, and clapping his hands, keep-
ing time to the music. " Little rascal ! " said Miss
Fannie, looking over my shoulder. " He has
enough to eat, and is never hungry. Why can't he
be content with heaven here, and not sigh for a better
We tried in vain to get help for them from the
Freedmen's Bureau. "' Tell them to go to work,"
said the superintendent in reply to our petition. This
seemed hard when they were working day and night
I told Jackson Green what a planter on St. Helena
Island said of the freed people.
" The gentleman shouldn't come here to bring us
to the ground in down-heartedness ; he should re-
member what us has gone through with, fur he know
how it was 'fore the war," he said.
The negroes on St. Helena Island took possession
252 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
of all the horses, mules, and cattle, and hid them
away in the swamps, so the foraging-parties could
not find them. But the people on Port Royal Island
were so near the river, the men on the gunboats took
all the live-stock, and the negroes were drafted as
One morning Katrine, a fine-looking negress, came
to beg for a bit of black to wear as mourning for her
mother. Aunt Peg. '' But she die so pretty, ma'am,"
said the mourning daughter. " She see all her family
as has died afore 'round her, an' the angels, you know,
ma'am, kum for she. Her said him arms was wings,
an' him gown a 'scension robe. Her said there was a
great gang o' little childun 'round she, an' them pull
her so her tell 'em loud, ' Go 'long, I'll come.' Oh,
her die so pretty ! "
I asked a class of little boys, " What are your ears
'' Oh, they jes' stan' ^o," said one. "• They is made
fur put on the head."
'' Then what is your hair for ? "
" Oh, hair is for keep sun out, so folks won't get
Aunt Jane called the little waiter. " Hector, you
come set the hen fur me ; dat's good boy," coax-
ingly. Then excusing herself to me, " Fur don't you
know, ma'am, 'tain't every somebody kin set a hen
an' have her come off all right. Some particular
somebodies has a good hand."
So Hector took the eggs and began to lay them
down carefully, but the old woman flew at him like
a veritable hen, exclaiming, —
CHRISTMAS GIFTS 263
" You mustn't touch 'em, boy. Slip 'em in. Don't
you know if you lay 'em down one at a time dey'U
hatch out de same ? "
After this we watched biddy in her nest in a bas-
ket under the stairs with interest.
The Christmas festivals were great occasions for
old and young. As yet there seemed to be no dis-
tinctive childhood. Old people were like children,
and the children worked with their elders. Little
boys and girls went into the fields and dropped corn
and thinned cotton.
We gave some beautiful dolls to the little girls, but
at first they did not know what to do with them.
Their mothers immediately took them and put them
up as house decorations, after examining them criti-
cally. All the old people were as delighted with toys
and games as the veriest child. Old men would dis-
pute the tilts and swings with the small boys, and
found ball-playing a most exciting game.
We had our schoolhouse newly painted and white-
washed. It was interesting to see the delight of the
children over this. The little ones would lie down
with their faces against the painted floor of the piazza,
and stretch out their arms as if caressing it. Of
course the clean and fresh schoolroom was a haven of
rest, so unlike their dark and dingy homes. It was
not surprising that when they came from their field-
work, to which they went at break of day, they were
glad to lay their heads on their desks and go to sleep.
254 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTKABANDS
We daily found two or three in this condition, and
rarely had the heart to disturb them. They needed
rest, and we were sure they would learn all the better
when they awoke. These sleepy ones always declared
their drowsiness came from the house and benches.
Like my house-boy, Nat, who frequently went to sleep
in a big rocking-chair after he had built my fire. He
would look around indignantly when aroused, and
'* Dat chair ! Dat chair is too wicked ! "
At one of the festivals I gave a woman a tin cup
of hot coffee. She held out her hand for another. I
expressed surprise, when she said, —
" O ma'am, I wants dat fur my ole man, who is
sick at home an' can't come."
In the winter most of the children were '' seeking
and praying." The older people said, " They do hang
their heads and pray ; " and they were not allowed to
do much of anything else for fear they would '' be
One woman said of her adopted daughter, " She
has been hanging her head and trying to pray these
three months, and she hasn't got through yit, and
she don't want to do nothing in all this time."
These religious revivals were a source of much dis-
turbance in school routine. Some of the seekers were
little children. We cannot call these " religious ex-
citements;" the young seekers were in a stupid and
lethargic condition. They began by wearing the most
ragged and untidy clothing, and they often tied dirty
bands around their heads, literally putting on sack-
CHRISTMAS GIFTS 255
cloth and ashes. Some children were not allowed to
come to school for fear they would be turned back.
A little girl was told she was too young to seek. She
drew herself up and said, " If Maria," one of her
mates, '' could go into the water, she could go too."
Two colored men set out some trees, live-oaks and
water-oaks, for me. " They is sure to live, for I shall
spection them every week," said one. But, in spite
of his '' 'spection," the trees did not live, which they
were sure was due to the " oncommon dry time."
At one time I proposed to give the school-children
a vacation during the holidays ; but to my surprise
this was not received with favor, so I asked what
was vacation. One boy exclaimed jubilantly, '' Some-
thing for eat ; " but others said, " To do nothing."
" Then you had rather do something ? " said I.
" Yes^ ma^am!''^ they exclaimed with emphasis.
I knew very well this was not altogether their love
for school. Their homes were dull and uncomfort-
able, and they were lonesome there.
I pursued my investigations farther, and asked,
''Why do we celebrate Christmas ? "
To my surprise, neither the women in the sewing-
room, nor the children, could give an answer. The
word '' celebrate " had upset them, and thrown all
their ideas into confusion. Then I told them about
Christmas, using as simple language as possible, when
one of the larger boys exclaimed, " Us ain't know
that''s what you mean! "
256 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
Through the kindness of our friend Rev. James
Freeman Clarke and his church, we were enabled to
give an annual festival to all the colored people in
our vicinity. There were over three hundred of
them. The maimed, the lame, and the blind, all
came together " for a good time.'' Never did host-
esses have merrier guests. The young people had
lost much of their diffidence, and moved about with
'-'• A festival is fur eat, an' it makes me laugh to
t'ink of it," said old Aunt Kate.
The men ''based" their shouting songs, in which
all joined with tremendous force : —
'' I can't stay behind, my Lord ;
I can't stay behind."
'' Nobody knows the trouble I feel,
Nobody knows but Jesus."
" O believer, go ring that bell,
Ring that charming bell."
''Keep your lamps trimmed and burning,
When the bridegroom comes."
At one of these festivals we were gratified to hear
a Northern gentleman say to our guests that he found
great improvement in the condition of the people
since he saw them before. He congratulated them
upon the upward progress they were making.
Mrs. Frances D. Gage, the poet, was also with us,
and gave some of her experiences when she came
South in 1862 as superintendent and teacher.
Now she found great changes for the better, and she
praised the mothers for their care of their children,
which pleased the women immensely.
One of the men in his speech declared, ''The
teachers is too kind-hearted." He wanted his chil-
dren " licked in school." When they were " licked "
he was sure they learned well.
This reminded me of the woman on St. Helena,
w^ho said, " Boy chile made fur lick. What did the
Lord Almighty make trees fur if they ain't fur lick
Another man said, " I send my children to school
every day, and when they come I ask them what they
do, and they incites their lessons to me ; and I ain't
no fault to find."
This same man said on another occasion, " When we
want anything done I go to Miss Mattoon's house, and
she insults me and I insult [consult] her; and then it
is all right."
About this time two little white girls presented
themselves, and asked to be taken into school. They
belonged to a good old Southern family, but were out
of the reach of any other school. The children of
their mother's cook had told them what we were
doing, and they were eager to be enrolled. They
came regularly, and were very happy, and made good
progress. The youngest was in the same class with
her little black playfellow, both learning to read ; but
the black girl started first, and so was ahead.
It was touching to see her zeal in trying to help on
her white companion, and her manifest delight when
her friend said anything particularly good.
258 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
But at the end of two months the little maidens
told me with evident reluctance and regret, that they
could not come any longer, " they were needed at
I suspected there were other reasons, so I called
upon the mother, a most intelligent and refined
woman. She confessed the Southern white people
had ''made so much fuss" because she allowed the
children to go to a '-'nigger school^^^ she felt obliged to
take them away. She regretted this, for the children
played all the time with their colored companions.
They had been brought up with them, but must grow
up in ignorance rather than to be allowed to study
" I would not care myself, but the young men laugh
at my husband. They tell him he must be pretty far
gone and low down when he sends his children to a
'nigger school.^ That makes him mad, and he is
vexed with me," said the mother sadly.
We all greatly regretted that these bright young
girls should be removed, and so lose the opportunity
for study ; but I could well understand the odium
was too great to be resisted.
A SWARM of speculators hung about the freed peo-
ple, to get away their lands. They used various
means, chief of which was bad whiskey, treating the
poor men to get them to give up their deeds, and
treating them to clinch the bargain. No lands could
fce bought at this time excepting by colored people
viho were heads of families, so the speculators con-
trived many ways to keep possession. They held the
deeds " in trust," and " for safe keeping," and " as
guaranty for the payment of some debt," etc.
The poor negroes became more than ever eager to
'' get book-larning," realizing that designing people
took advantage of their ignorance. They constantly
said to me, —
" My Lord, ma'am, what a great thing larning is !
In course white folks can do what they likes, for they
know so much more'na we."
At the same time these " white folks " were using
and abusing the negroes. If business went well, and
money flowed in freely, all was right ; but when
reverses came, whatever was the primary cause, it
was always attributed to the 'inevitable nigger."
260 FIEST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
We were often astonished at the angry diatribes of
our white neighbors. From observation we were
forced to believe that '' white folks," with all their
" larning," could sometimes make mistakes and
Year after year it was the old story with the freed
people, — short crops and no money. An old man
came to me for advice. He said, —
" Sometimes when I sets down and studies upon
what I can find to put in my mouth, the water leaps
from my eyes and runs down my face from pure dis-
trust [distress], for I ain't know what to do next.
For I is a well-raised man, and I ain't used to com-
In 1868 I wrote to the agent of the Freedmen's
Bureau in Beaufort, as I knew he had corn and meat
to distribute. I told him I would pledge my word
for the industry of our people ; besides, there were
many who were old, sick, and helpless.
He replied, " It is direct cruelty to the race for
government to assist the people with rations. I have
no doubt you will see it in this same light upon re-
flection. Tell the people from me they must work
for some one who has corn to pay for labor."
This was a cruel blow. We knew the man had a
cargo of corn for distribution. We had been with
the freed people four years, and thought we under-
stood them quite as well as this new official.
One of our men had a broken leg. I asked the
agent if this man and the old women could " go to
work " ? and would he advise those who had planted
crops to abandon them and seek work elsewhere ?
The people around me were working on two plan-
tations for a share in the crops, but they had not a
cent with which to buy food. In this dilemma I
went again to the bureau agent. He said each man
must pay the sum of two dollars and ten cents for a
bond before he could get a grain of corn.
'^ Lord bless me ! Whar da him comin' from ? "
exclaimed old Uncle Major, who had gone with me
to get rations. I reiterated this. Where can these
people get money for a bond when they have abso-
lutely nothing ? And why were the colored people
obliged to pay two dollars a bushel for corn, and
twenty cents a pound for bacon, when government
furnished to the white planters corn for one dollar
and forty cents a bushel, and bacon for fifteen cents
a pound? The reply was the white planters were
sure to pay, as they gave a lien upon their crops.
In the meantime the colored people around us were
trying to work their crops, having only the fish and
crabs they caught in the creeks to live on.
Later in the season the bureau agent decided to
advance provisions to those people who owned land,
if they pledged themselves to pay for this in the fall.
This arrangement did not help the most needy.
Owing to their ignorance of the value of cotton, of
money, and of the things purchased with money, the
freed people were constantly imposed upon by those
who bought of or sold to them.
One of the officers said to me, " All the good the
Yankee teachers do to the freedmen is neutralized by
the harm done to them by the Yankee sharpers."
262 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
March 15, 1867, the War Department Bureau of
Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, Wash-
ington, estimated that the number of destitute in
South Carolina were, " Whites, 5,000, and blacks
5,000. Number of rations needed per month, 300,000 ;
for five months, until the crops would begin to be
gathered, 1,600,000. Value at twenty-five cents per
With all this outlay we could not believe the blacks
would be left to starve.
In November we went to Beaufort to see the black
people in their first great '' election day ; " as was said
at the time, '' one of the greatest days ever known."
The flag for Grant and Colfax extended across the
street was a wonder and a delight to all the freed
people. The town was crowded ; but, contrary to the
predictions of many of the white people and hopes of
a few, the election passed off admirably, with much
less friction than could have been expected. There
was not a drop of liquor sold, and no hanging about.
The negroes voted and went off'. This was due to
their own good management.
One of our men came to the carriage to speak with
'' Do you vote the Lincoln ticket ? " said a gentle-
man who was with us.
" Oh, I'se 'bleeged to wote fur him, fur him's been
" But Lincoln is dead," said another.
" Dead ! " he exclaimed. '' Oh, no, him neber die.
They tried to kill him ; they 'sassernated him, but
him lib forever. Wen him dead for sure, then us all
dead sure. 'Tain't no use fur we to try more."
Our man-servant Ned was much troubled as to
what to do about his vote. As he expressed it, he
was " toxicated in his mind." I heard him telling
Aunt Jane with great delight about this. A gentle-
man asked him where he came from. -He said he
drove for the ladies. That was enough ; he was taken
Poor Ned! He did not know that with all his
ignorance and credulity his name was of far more
value than ours, because he was a man, and we
only women. He could cast a vote which he could
not read, and help to make laws of whose import he
This election was of great importance to the
negroes, and was an event in their lives which they
were only beginning to comprehend.
All the colored people, whether church-members
or not, had a blind devotion to religious restrictions.
They claimed to be strict observers of the Sabbath.
This same Uncle Ned went on Saturday night to
another plantation to see his family ; so I directed
him to bring the mule and cart with him the next
day ; but the old man, who always looked out for the
main chance, concluded it was foolish to bring an
empty cart, so he filled it with wood for our use.
Reporting this to me, he said, —
" Many o' them peoples wonders at me for bringing
wood on Sunday; but I tells them one man's need
ain't another man's need, an' each one knows hisself,
264 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
SO I ax the Lord's pardon ef I does wrong, an' I
hopes he'll furgive me ; an' then I jes' let Bessie
[the mule] tuck his foot easy for home, an' I hopes
it'll not be amiss, an will be all right by an' by."
So his conscience was set at rest.
The same day I had been to a meeting of colored
people. The minister was exhorting the converts
who were soon to be baptized. He said, —
" Some Baptists are so mixed up I don't know
what to call them. They are dodging about under
the umbrellas and parasols of other denominations^
until I don't know where to find them."
At the close of the war, to our surprise and dis-
may, the old plantation house and grand oak grove
were sold, and we were forced to seek a home
in the town. This involved a daily drive of five
miles to and from school, over a deep, sandy road,
which made it a slow and tedious trip. This also
removed us from the immediate neighborhood of the
people we most desired to help. Now the men and
women, knowing they could no longer come to the
house for advice, watched for us by the roadside.
Many were the petty courts we thus held, sitting in
our open buggy ; some were amusing, but all were
more or less pathetic.
When family or neighborhood disturbances arose,
we would find accuser and accused, with the wit-
nesses, ranged in military order, waiting our coming.
A few decisive words usually sent them all off laugh-
ing and talking harmoniously.
One day we met on the way an old man and woman
with two young witnesses marching to town. The
old man immediately began to tell his story, — some
trouble about his pigs, etc. Whatever it was, he
decided he couldn't stand it any longer, and he was
bound to go to the trial justice. Thereupon the
woman pushed him aside, exclaiming, —
'' Pshaw, boy ! Go 'long, an' let me talk." Then
she gave her version.
Both these people were gray-headed. I said, —
" Jack, how old are you ? "
" Why, missis, I don't know how old I is, but I
'specs I must be a big age. I ain't a chicken, that's
sure," he replied.
'^ Well, Rose, what is Jack to you ? " I asked.
" Nothing, only fellow-sarvents," she answered,
nodding her head. " I don't count him, nohow."
I told them I was ashamed to see two old people
quarrelling like children. At this the old man hung
" When you get to the trial justice, please don't
say you came from Whitney School District," I said,
and started on.
''Rose," said the man, ''let's go home. I ain't
min' what you say."
" That's so, Brudder Jack. I ain't want to fight
you," she replied, and all turned back laughing and
talking like merry children.
Not far from us lived a man and his wife, who
were most helpful neighbors. They owned their own
house and land, and were wise and thrifty, and were
leaders in the town and the church. He was business
266 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
adviser to his colored friends, and a devoted friend
to us. Honest and faithful, he certainly lived up to
the best light given him. He was such an efficient
helper in our goings and comings, and transacted so
much business for me, that " Miss Sallie " named him
" Prime Minister." As such he was a man to be
proud of; very black, tall, and straight — a fine
specimen of his race.
He always bought my wood and feed for my horse,
etc. So he often came to the house for instructions,
beginning with, —
" What do you think, ma'am ? " And when I had
given him explicit directions what to do, he invariably
'' That's so, ma'am. Now, I is going to show you,"
putting his fore-finger emphatically into the other
hand, to point off his suggestions, '' for you is a
women and can't look into everi/ pint." Then he
would repeat word for word what I had told him,
giving it as his plan of action, and ending with, —
'' You see, ma'am, women is women, and mens is
mens," and that settled the whole.
As we were returning South in the fall of 1868,
we heard disheartening stories about the freedmen.
We were told in Washington they were becoming
usurpers. They realized their power, and began to
feel they could do without white influence. It was
said they had taken the entire direction of their
schools, putting into office colored trustees and a col-
ored superintendent, and they had removed several
white teachers and put inefficient colored teachers in
Miss Amy Bradley, who was giving her life to help
the ''poor whites " in Wilmington, N.C., spoke to us
of the arrogant assumption of the negroes around
her as a serious evil.
In Charleston we heard of riots in different parts
of the State, excited certainly by what Governor
Andrew had already predicted, the unwillingness of
the old slave-holders to recognize free labor. We
feared there was a growing hostility between the two
races, as races.
We took a small steamer from Charleston for Beau-
fort. Here we found a decided change since we went
North. Then no colored person was allowed on the
268 FIEST DAYS WITH THE CONTKABANDS
upper deck, now there were no restrictions, — there
could be none, for a law had been passed in favor of
the negroes. They were everywhere, choosing the
best staterooms and best seats at the table. Two
prominent colored members of the State Legislature
were on board with their families. There were also
several well-known Southerners, still uncompromis-
ing rebels. It was a curious scene and full of signifi-
cance. An interesting study to watch the exultant
faces of the negroes, and the scowling faces of the
rebels, — rebels still against manifest destiny and the
new dispensation. Until now we had but little un-
derstood these portentous changes, the meaning of
which we must study out for ourselves.
We were summoned to dinner. When we reached
the table we found there only colored people occupy-
ing more than half the seats on each side. They
were doing the honors with something of an air that
said, ''Keceive this from me or go without." In all
' respects, however, they were courteous and attentive.
There was no loud talking or laughing.
The stewardess came behind us, and leaning over
whispered we had better wait a little, as they were
obliged to give the colored passengers the first table.
The white passengers would come to the second.
We thanked her, but preferred to keep our seats. A
few Northerners joined us. One, who we knew had
been a first-class Democrat, and " down on the niggers,"
was obliged to leave us and sit next to a man as black
as ink. He swallowed his prejudices and took his
seat, and fraternized with his neighbor to the best of
his ability; besides, it was no longer a question of
inclination, it was business. This was the point in
which our fears were most aroused. The freedmen,
no longer slaves, were fast becoming tools.
The negro who sat not far from me was an immense
fellow, seemingly an iron man, with powerful physique
and indomitable will. He had made an incendiary
speech in July, telling his people this was their gov-
ernment, and they no longer needed or had any use
for white people. All the morning he had walked
around scanning and apparently marking the passen-
gers. His looks seemed to say, " If you are with us,
well and good ; if not, stand back." Whilst the
scowling faces and muttered words of the Southern-
ers implied, " If you stand back, well and good ; if
you fraternize with the niggers, be ^ — "
The little group of Northerners noted and trans-
lated what they saw. Each one watched his neigh-
bor. I now understood why we were so frequently
asked in Charleston if we were not afraid to return to
Beaufort just now. Some friends had earnestly urged
us to wait until after election on Tuesday, but that
was the time we wanted to be with the people in our
own district. We had no fears for ourselves, but grave
apprehensions for our friends. These were exciting
times. We seemed to be living over a volcano.
On arriving in Beaufort we found no excitement
amongst the freed people, and no apparent antagon-
ism. All was quiet in our own district. Rumors of
disaffection had reached our colored neighbors. They
came to us to know what it all meant.
270 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
I can only refer briefly to those early days of
Governor Orr had declared in convention, ''The
doctrine of State rights, as taught in South Carolina,
has been exploded by the war." This had been " a
time-honored doctrine in the South."
A series of resolutions had been drawn up in the
State convention, one of which was the following : —
'* And whereas our newly enfranchised citizens have displayed
their good sense and strong love of country by a cordial and unas-
suming co-operation with the rest of their fellow-citizens, in pro-
moting the true interests of our beloved State and glorious republic,
be it —
^^ Resolvedj That this convention take such action as it may in
its wisdom deem compatible with its powers, and conducive to the
public weal to expunge forever from the vocabulary of South
Carolina the epithets of ^' negro," "nigger," and "Yankee," as
used in an opprobrious sense."
The constitutional convention also declared, —
" All the public schools, colleges, and universities of this State,
supported by the public funds, shall be free and open to all the
children and youth of the State, without regard to race or color."
A bill " to protect all persons in the State in their
civil rights," " was introduced in the House of Rep-
resentatives, which declared the civil equality of
all citizens, and prohibited any discrimination on
account of race or color on the part of hotel-keepers,
carriers of passengers, granters of licenses," etc.
To this bill were the colored people — as it had
been decided by the Democrats to call them " colored
population " for '^ negroes," — indebted for their seats
at the first table in tlie steamboat, instead of the
The Democrats sent to Washington their remon-
strance against the new constitution of the State.
Later they declared, " This must be and shall be,
par excellence^ a white man's government."
This is not a political paper. I give these extracts
to show the animus of the times. Knowing how
much was at stake, we watched with intense interest
the approaching election, in which the freed people
were for the first time to vote for president, and take
their places as acknowledged citizens of the United
But election day came and went without conflict
or confusion. Fortunately for all concerned, the bar-
rooms were closed, and no riotous or disorderly people
were allowed on the streets.
In those first days of reconstruction the white
people in our vicinity were much given to fault-
finding. With them, the greatest of all sinners was
the ''inevitable nigger." Ignorance and stupidity
were inexcusable, if covered with a black skin. These
complaints became so general as to make us believe
each man had an axe to grind, which must be done
by the negroes ; and that he v/as mad if the stone
was not turned his own particular way.
It was now only seven years since the slaves had
first heard of emancipation. Like the first years in
the life of mankind, these had been the infancy of the
272 FIKST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
race. The second period, which might truly be termed
its boyhood, had now begun. Like its prototype in
man, it was a season of change and all sorts of wild
vagaries. Transition periods are times of great per-
plexities ; time and patience and wise forethought
are needed to bring order out of confusion.
Individuals amongst the freedmen were rapidly
progressing ; but the majority were uncertain what to
do. They were now, for the first time, taking their
places as independent human beings ; literally
'' working out their own salvation," but not with
fear and trembling. Like children they were buoyant
and confident. They asked less and less advice and
help from their white neighbors. Of course they
made great mistakes and fatal blunders. Their mis-
fortunes were their best teachers. We all know it is
by our failures, and not our successes, we get the best
lessons of life.
The leaders amongst the colored people had already
established churches in all the towns, with branch
societies in the country. These were in good work-
ing order. The smaller societies were regularly
supervised by the parent churches. At the beginning
their methods were crude in the extreme ; but there
was constantly a little change for the better. This
was certainly the verdict in our district, after much
The next step with the colored man was to join a
political club, and these duties became more absorbing
than all else. Every boy considered himself a man
at eighteen, and every man had some office in his
neighborhood which was to him of vast importance,
even if only that of doorkeeper in their small
Most of the field-work was done by the women and
girls ; their lords and masters were much interrupted
in agricultural pursuits by their political and religious
duties. When the days of " conwentions " came, the
men were rarely at home ; but the women kept
steadily at work in the fields. As we drove around,
we saw them patiently '' cleaning up their ground,"
''listing," "chopping down the old cotton stalks
and hoeing them under," gathering "sedge" and
"trash" from the river-side, which they carried in
baskets on their heads, and spread over the land.
And later, hoeing the crops and gathering theni in.
We could not help wishing that since so much of
the work was done by the colored women, — raising
the provisions for their families, besides making and
selling their own cotton, they might also hold some
of the offices held by the men. I am confident they
would despatch business if allowed to go to the polls;
instead of listening and hanging around all day, dis-
cussing matters of which they knew so little, they
would exclaim, —
" Let me vote and go ; I've got work to do."
Many of these same working-women were in school
at odd times, eager to learn, but they thought they
could go through a book as they hoed a task.
" Please read me quick, and let me go ! " was usually
their first exclamation. It took time to make them
understand that learning was not given by weight or
274 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
measure. As soon as they saw that school, too,
required steady work, many of them dropped out.
These men and women no longer left everything
to come '' to catch a lesson," as in the first days of
freedom. Many things conspired to check their zeal,
the chief of which was the little importance placed
upon education throughout the country. The men
were eager to hold office, and positions of trust were
frequently given to those who could neither read nor
write, while those who were studying were set aside.
In time they decided that for all practical purposes
the ignorant got along as well as ''those that have
book-learning." They could not understand that
education helped them to ways and means of which
they knew nothing. They had yet to learn the power
of knowledge, and that it is not so much what we do,
as how we do it.
They were still eager to keep their children in
school, saying, " We are too old to run that race ; the
children must learn for us." But the boys and girls
who stood first in their classes were unwilling to go
back to field-work. This was a serious offence to the
" Do they think I am to hoe with them folks that
don't know anything ! " exclaimed one of the older
boys. " I know too much for that." Their dialect is
the last thing to change.
" Them children discountenance we," groaned the
parents. " They is too smart ; they knows too
much," but all with evident pride in spite of their
We were told these parents carried famous reports
to town of what our scholars could do. According
to these partial judges there was no knowledge on
the face of the earth that could not be gained in
The town children came out to "spection" our
district, and find out what our pupils were doing.
These visitors talked loudly of their own work, to
which the country children ''turned up their noses,"
until they began to boast of '' algeeher " and '' passin^'^
then our children were silenced ; they had not reached
algebra, and knew but little of parsing.
One of the head men came to ask me what these
meant, and couldn't I introduce them into my school.
"Not that I think them can come up to you,
ma'am, but they is so boastful," said my self-appointed
The children declared scornfully, " They can't beat
us, for they don't know more than we."
The boys soon learned to play ball, and were
greatly absorbed in this amusement. It Avas hard for
them not to have one little game when school was
over. They were obliged to go to the field at break
of day, where each one had his task to do before he
could ''knock off." It seemed to us it was pretty
much " all work and no play," which would make a
" dull boy " of any Jack. But the parents complained,
" Them children so love fur play, " they never wanted
to come home. All we could do was to see that they
did not stop on the school grounds ; the parents
must see to the rest. But they are unwilling to
276 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTBABANDS
assume real responsibility. Home discipline and
home instruction are the most difficult things for the
colored people to grapple with.
This is the gist of the ignorance of all the lowest
classes. When they can learn to wisely govern
themselves and their families, they cease to be sub-
ordinate, and rise to the level of leaders and di-
The chief amusement of the girls was to sing
and to sew on their patchwork. Sewing was the
most fascinating of all, in which the mothers deeply
sympathized. The only thing all the women would
beg for was '' scraps for quilts." The boys begged
'' to sew quilt too," and there was much good-nat-
ured rivalry between them and the girls.
One day a class of small girls was given an extra
hour to sew after school. This was considered a
special '' reward of merit." They had more freedom
than during the regular school hours. I heard them
chattering like blackbirds. Finally one exclaimed, —
" I weary fur sew ; I hungry too. Ef Miss Noy
only gib me sew at home, I make one big quilt 'fore
this month done."
"I am afraid you won't keep your work clean,"
said the teacher, who also heard their talk; ''one
piece is very much soiled already."
They looked at each other astonished, as if clean-
liness was the rule and not the exception ; then one
" Who da him ? That one somebody never wash
hands. I done wash my hands 'fore school."
Ah, me ! It was impossible to correct the language
of these childi^en, when out of school they heard
nothing but the plantation dialect.
In the fall of 1869 we found grave causes for
anxiety cropping out in our district. The old people
were fast breaking down ; the younger people had
not the patience and endurance of their parents.
Trials and ve!s:ations were to them dire misfortunes.
The children ran more at large, and acquired bad
habits. In former times the elders had unquestioned
authority over the young people, from whom they
exacted implicit obedience.
Speculators had succeeded in getting hold of much
of the land near us. From the friends of the freed
people in town, who tried to shield them against
sharpers and carpet-baggers, the women had learned
that they too had independent rights in their ten-acre
lots, most of which had been bought with their own
money. Some of these women were firm in refusing
to sign the papers which transferred their lands.
The men, directed by their white leaders, used all
sorts of ways to bring their wives into subjection.
One woman, who would not consent to the sale of
her land, became ill. Her husband kindly offered to
take her to a good white doctor in town ; so she
willingly went with him. When they reached the
town he took her into an office where were several
white men. One of these questioned her. and then
said he now understood what was the matter, and he
278 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
would give her an order for some medicine, but she
must first sign the receipt. This she did by touching
the pen in the presence of witnesses.
These poor creatures had profound respect for
'^ handwriting," and the ^ touching the pen was to
them a kind of necromancy. This woman hesitated,
but was assured by all present that it was all
For a long time she was ignorant of the fact that
her land was sold, and that she had signed away her
title when she signed the so-called receipt. When
she found out the deception, she declared she would
never give up her claim, year after year still asserting
she would never give it up, '' Not while I lives." But
she died, and her children were powerless, and the
place went into a white man's hands.
There were innumerable cases of this kind around
us. The opening of a new railroad and a new town
had greatly increased the value of the land.
January, 1869, we received word that all the col-
ored people who owned land must pay a back tax
for 1866 ; they had already paid for 1867. The
original tax was $1.10 ; but on account of delays
and " charges," all of which were unintelligible to
the negroes, the sum now amounted to $4.85. They
were notified that if they delayed paying this tax
their lands would be sold. They were in a panic,
and so were we. They gathered together everything
which could possibly be sold — corn, chickens, and
pigs ; indeed, they stripped their little farms. In this
excitement we drove to and from town to see the
officials, and wrote in every direction for advice.
Finally, we were notified the tax collection was
stopped; but the mischief was done. Most of the
people had beggared themselves to raise what was
to them a small fortune ; but they settled back into
contentment and quiet.
Then came a new order that the law must be
enforced, and the back taxes paid. It was a cruel
thing that these poor people should be obliged to pay
so dearly for theii^ ignorance. They had never been
notified of this tax for 1866. Some of the lands were
sold before the matter could be readjusted.
It was touching to see the humility and contrition
of the neofroes when thino-s went wronof. Instead of
expressing anger when over-reached, they seemed
grieved and ready to apologize for their stupidity.
Over and over again they would say. —
'• Mv Lord, ma'am I what a oTcat thingr larnincr is !
In course white folks can do what they likes, for they
knows so much more'na ^ e.'*
As March said of the Xorthern man who cheated
•* I declar.' he don't desarv to be a white man."
In time the negroes began to profit by their fail-
ures. In slavery times success had been held up as a
crowning virtue. I once heard a slave-holder say. —
'' I never whip a nigger for stealing, but I'll lick
him half to death for being found out. They iciU
steal; all the nigs will: but if they ain't smart
enough to hide it, they deserve to be thrashed, and I
tell my niggers so."
280 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
Such were the schools from which most of these
people were graduated. When they became free we
cannot wonder if they wished to be as sharp as their
While recalling the incidents and events con-
tiected with " my first days with the contrabands," I
am overwhelmed with the crowd of memories which
rash along. Two pictures stand out clearly before
tne, — that of the slaves just freed, and the negroes
of the present time. It is not easy to believe they
are the same, unless one has carefully watched the
progress of the race.
I can say nothing of this progress ; that is a history
by itself. I can only speak of the first decade after
emancipation, as I saAV it. That was in the begin-
ning. The order then was, " March on ! " It is the
Taking the analogy of field-work, which we often
used with our pupils to illustrate the course of their
education : the land must first be cleaned up ; old
stalks and weeds must be chopped down and burned;
then come hoeing and ploughing and digging, before
planting. When the seed is in the ground, it requires
patience to wait for its growth, and constant watch-
fulness and care to keep out the weeds ; the richer
the soil, the more vigorous the growth of weeds.
282 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
Such were the similes we used in those first days,
and they do not inaptly typify the lives of the freed
My experiences are but one leaf in the history of
emancipation. Every line is written with profound
respect for the negro race. * There is nothing in the
history of the world which, in portentous magnitude,
can compare with the progress of events since " free-
dom was declared." To-day the African race stands
side by side with us, — independent citizens, asking
only for rights and privileges and opportunities
which are " God's providences."
Just twenty years from the time I attended the
emancipation jubilee in Charleston, I was present at
another New Year's celebration gotten up by the col-
ored people of Beaufort. They had erected a stand,
in front of which was an arch of evergreens ; over
the centre was a portrait of Lincoln, and at each cor-
ner portraits of Grant and Garfield.
These are some of the signs which mark the prog-
ress of the freed people. Watching their military
movements, and listening to their good speakers, it
was not easy to realize that only two decades had
passed since they were in slavery.
When freedom was first declared it took a long
time for the good news to spread and be believed. In
1864 the country people were many of them just
awakening to the fact that slavery was dead, and they
had little faith that freedom would last.
'^How far can the negroes go in education?" is
often asked. That depends upon time and circum-
stances, to say nothing of previous conditions. The
children learn readily and memorize quickly. Then
the lack of habits of application bars the way. What
is learned in school is repeated at home, and so the
whole is leavened. In this way the family is in-
structed and advanced, while the progress of the
child is retarded. He hears only the plantation dia-
lect, and becomes familiar with the plantation super-
The scholars would write correctly from dictation ;
— their eyes and ears were seldom at fault ; — but
when writing by themselves they made sad havoc
with the English language.
For instance ; one of our most satisfactory pupils
left school, and was married ; but he was anxious to
keep up his studies, so he wrote me, " If you have any
spear books such as I shall name, which is dictionary,
United States History, to lone, gave, or sole me."
He got his books, w^hich we gave him with a bit of
advice about writing. We recalled what Raph said,
''A slip of the tongue am noiault of the brain."
To know how to apply what they learn is the
secret to be gained.
General S. C. Armstrong said in one of his re-
'' The negro is more successful in getting knowledge than in
using it. To him, as to all, knowledge comes easily, but wisdom
slowly. Knowledge is power only as it is digested and assimilated.
His mental digestion is weak. The education of the American
negro is, I think, dealing with the most responsible, responsive,
and satisfactory student material to be found among the less
favored races of this or any land.'^
284 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
All the freed people have not improved, but most
have, and no one stands still.
One of the first colored soldiers ever brought
under my care was a middle-aged light man from
New Orleans. He was sad and hopeless. The whole
burden of his talk was, " I never had a chance. O
lady, I wanted to learn, but I never had a chance.
Too late now ; too late. / never had a chanced
This he repeated over and over again.
Irregularity is one of the greatest faults of the
negroes. I wish I could say that this habit was con-
fined to the black people of the South. They have
never yet learned that '' time and tide wait for no
man." Perhaps our white friends consider this an-
other '^ Yankee notion."
At one time I engaged one of the oldest boys from
the first class to assist in school. He was to ring the
bell, put the house in order, and make himself gener-
ally useful. He was proud over this appointment,
besides, it gave him a little pocket-money.
The first day he came all right, according to direc-
tion ; the second he went ''to vote," and was absent
all day ; the third day he rang the bell an hour
too early ; on the fourth we waited in vain to hear
the bell, then sent some one to ring it and open
the house. He came an hour and a half after time.
At first I excused him, knowing he had neither clock
nor watch to guide him ; but there was always a
clock by the kitchen door not far away which he
Finally, I gave him up. He was too dilatory.
Then two gi]is begged me to give them the place.
They were always on time, but I am not at all sure
that my good old cook did not hang out a signal for
them. I am certain they were at her pantry door
when we sat down at breakfast. The schoolroom
was always clean and in excellent order when we
arrived. Upon hearing our commendations the boy
sneered at the girls, saying it took two of them to do ,
the work he had done.
We took one of these girls to drill a number of
tiny creatures called the infantry class. Her method
was amusing. She would say, '' How much eyes you
got? How much nose you got? Now count for
me till twenty. Morris, you knock Betty? Oh,
what a bad boy you is ! " The little ones would
listen with as profound attention as if she were the
wisest teacher in the land.
Our hopes for the future of this race must lie in
the children born in freedom. They are like a new
race, unknown before.
The incidents I have narrrated show the condition
of the slaves when emancipated ; ^^but, as the negro
boy said to General Howard when asked what report
he should take to their Northern friends, —
''Massa, tell 'em we is risin'," he said, and rising
they surely are. The march is slow and over a zig-
zag path. As when we go up a mountain our way \
ascends and descends, so these people go up and
down in their progress towards civilization ; but they
invariably go up more than down.
286 FIRST DAYS WITH THE CONTRABANDS
Let us see where the negro race stands in 1892.
The following facts, carefully collected by Rev.
Dr. Beard, Secretary of the American Missionary
Association, speak for themselves.
"" Twenty-seven years ago forbidden to read by law, without a
school; to-day with 25,530 schools! Then not a child in school,
in all the families of 4,000,000! Now 2,250,000 have learned -
read, and most of them to write; while, according to the census
1890, there are in the Afro-American schools 238,229 pupils, the
increase in attendance the last ten years being more than 62|- per
cent. Twenty-seven years ago a negro school-teacher would have
been a curiosity; to-day, by the grace of God, and by the grit of
their own manhood, 20,000 Afro-Americans are teaching school.
Twenty-seven years ago it was thought that the colored man was
incapable of higher education; to-day there are 66 academies and
high-schools presided over and taught by colored teachers. To-day
there are 150 schools for advanced education for the training o^
Afro-American pupils. Among these are seven colleges admini^
tered by colored presidents and faculties, and three of these college
presidents were formerly slaves.
'* While by the Southern States alone $50,000,000 have been raise
for the purpose of Afro-American education, the great bulk of tl
teachers of higher education have come from the institution
maintained by the funds from the North.
*' Asto the learned professions, there are 1,000 college-bred negn
ministers in the land. Twenty-seven years ago there were twc
newspapers edited by colored men; now there are 154. In 1805
there were two negro attorneys; there are now 250. Twenty-seven
years ago there were three colored physicians; now there are 749.
Two hundred and forty-seven colored students are to-day in the
universities of Europe."
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